Back in November I had the pleasure of speaking to 50 assistants who were attending a networking event organised by ACE (Assistant Community EMEA), an internal networking group set up by assistants at BlackRock. I must say I was completely bowled over by the event, which is not something I have often said about networking events for assistants!
The event, entitled ACE Connects, was organised by assistants for assistants which meant that a lot of thought had gone into the structure of the session. Each assistant from BlackRock had been asked to invite an assistant from one of their client’s organisations so that they could meet face to face for the first time and get to know each other in a relaxed and informative environment. I noticed that all of the BlackRock assistants were introducing their guests to other assistants in the room and it was clear that the external assistants were all made to feel comfortable and a real part of the session. I thought this was just a brilliant idea – not only because it meant assistants had a structure event to meet face to face but it also proves that assistants are invaluable within the business and are able to develop the relationship between businesses and their clients.
There were a number of Executives in attendance supporting their assistants including a senior Managing Director who spoke about his commitment to training and improving skills for assistants within BlackRock. It was like music to my ears – someone who gets the job and appreciates their assistants but also someone who understands that assistants need to attend training courses and is willing to offer financial support.
I was also impressed that a number of the assistants who had helped to organise the event got up and spoke to the audience. Although they were nervous (which I can completely empathise with) they did it and I was really pleased that ACE Connects had given them the opportunity to practice their public speaking skills.
Last but not least, ACE Connects had organised a small ice-breaker task for attendees. They asked each table to write an example of an area that would improve the assistant role. The feedback would help shape future events.
I was asked to speak about networking and how beneficial it is for assistants. Here are a few keys points from my session and a copy of the slides (slides can be viewed here for those reading this by email). Simone White, the founder of ACE Network, will be speaking about internal networking groups at our conference next year – Assist Conference. Visit the website for more information.
- The first benefit is that networking builds character and it gets you out of your comfort zone. Assistants work with so many different types of people from CEOs of global conglomerates to the mailroom work experience boy. In all of these circumstance we do need to be able to communicate with them and be confident in what we are saying. I find networking events a really good place practice speaking to strangers, making small talk and trying to find things in common with others. So it is vital for personal development. It can be a real challenge, and I can not tell you the amount of times I have spoken to someone that is terrible at small talk – it really is like getting blood from a stone. But in all of those circumstances it really has made me stronger and actually more confident because I’ve told myself I’m trying here and if I’ve managed to get a laugh out of them or a bit of information I’ve done well!
- We don’t get a chance to get out much so networking is vital and it is really worthwhile for assistants. If you work in isolation, which many of us do, without guidance from others there is the chance that we will repeat the same mistakes that we have made before and we won’t grown professionally. As assistants we don’t need to reinvent the wheel – if we have a great network of other assistants we can ask others how they have done things, if they can suggest the right supplier or put you in contact with a great hotel. Being able to pick the brains of other assistants in a similar situation is so incredibly helpful. This is particularly true if you network with assistants who are supporting the same Director – for example an assistant to the CFO will have a completely different experience to an assistant of the CEO, they won’t understand how demanding the job becomes say around financial reporting season – but another finance assistant will completely understand why you are so stressed out in December and in April. This knowledge sharing also works across industries. I worked in insurance for many years and it was great to network with assistants in that industry because there are certain characters ((i.e. brokers) that can be difficult to work with.
- Influence is an interesting concept when it comes to assistants – we don’t often feel that we are in a position to influence decisions. But actually influencing and persuading often more senior members of staff is a really important skill. We must have a certain amount of influence over others to safe guard our manager’s time, to chase other colleagues to get things done or to manage projects. Networking provides a fantastic opportunity for assistants to also widen their circle of influence. Networking at external events will put you into contact with new suppliers, like-minded assistants and even potential customers. You might not use your contact straight away but at some point you might be able to solve a problem and use those magic words “I know someone who can do that”.
- Networking, attending training events and learning from each other – particularly those assistants that are paving the way – are all vital to help us grown personally and professionally. Peer to peer networking is more important than ever. I read a great quote from a networking expert, Sandra Wiley – she said. Those that ignore peer networks, which can make us smarter, more engaged, and better connected ‒ do so at their own risk.
- The assistant role is changing. More and more highly ambitious and well educated women are entering the profession and being asked to keep their incredibly successful Executives on task. The demands on our Executive’s time are more than they have ever been and we have to be confident and real gatekeepers. It’s not an easy job so as we move into more of a middle management type role (albeit without the salary) we have to gain the skills required to keep up with the demands of the role.