It was with a slight sense of disappointment that I turned up for BNI’s 20th Anniversary in the UK celebrations last Friday. I had earlier gone through the running order for the day and noticed that among the speakers’ list, there was just one woman. I felt that the organisers should have take conscious efforts to be more inclusive. That said, the sole woman was none less than the phenomenal athlete and Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson who spoke with great empathy, candour and humour about her life as an athlete, her role as a mum and more recently as a Baroness in the House of Lords.
She was followed by Andy Bounds who was named ‘Sales Trainer Of The Year’ for 2008. You can see why he got the title. Andy’s boundlessly enthusiastic talk was entertaining and illuminating at the same time. And I took away a lot of tips that I can use in my work. He was followed by James Potter who spoke about being human on Linkedin. I wish he had toned down the theatrics as I found his performance (for that’s what it was) quite annoying and patronising and I switched off pretty early on. The next speaker had to cancel because of ill-health and finally, it was the turn of the man who founded BNI, Ivan Misner. Listening to him, it was easy to forget that Ivan is widely regarded as the guru of modern networking and the head of multi-million dollar business which he started quite modestly from his garage. Such was the ease with which he wore his achievements.
Earlier when I ran into him at the corridor, Ivan asked what I did and what my experience was with BNI. I rattled off a couple of things before he was pulled away by someone else who wanted to meet him. What happened next made me realise why the organisation he founded is so successful. Even though his attention had been diverted from me, Ivan came back to excuse himself to say that he had to go but that it was a pleasure talking to me and that he hoped I would continue to remain with BNI. A small gesture like that reinforced how much it is about the people who make up the organisation and how much they are valued.
As I listened to Ivan talk, I scanned around the room to see several riveted faces. At least a third of the audience was women. I wondered how many of them like me had to arrange for childcare that day so we could be there. I wondered how many had resorted to self employment because the few years that they had taken off to raise their kids was seen as a gaping hole in their careers by employers. I wondered how many had become their own bosses so they could cheer at sports days and endure Christmas plays.
I looked again at the list of speakers for that day. I asked myself, how much longer we would have to wait to see more diverse leaders on stage. Organisations such as BNI who support entrepreneurs enormously surely must recognise the need for further inclusion and actively work towards visibility of women and minorities in business. It is 2016 and is disappointing that I should even be writing about it.