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Cherie Booth at the Women of the Future Summit

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Cherie Booth kicks off by observing that employers are "as interested in who you know as what you know."

She starts by referring to Helen Wilkinson’s 2004 study Girls in High Places. This described how networking could uncover "the unwritten script" of how to get ahead in an organisation. And,she observes, men still have the upper hand – because Informal networks are defined by men.

"The old boys’ network may have swapped port for a pint but it is sill alive and kicking," she says. "It’s not delberate exclusion but we still have a glass ceiling and s sticky floor. Obstacles remain but they are more likely to be informal and unconscious."

As an example: for a woman to ask a senior make colleague out for a drink after work to discuss a work-related issue, can readily cause gossip and suspicion (as well as concern for the man that such perceptions may arise).

She also notes that tnetworking takes time. "It’s great that men are taking a greater role in bringing up their children more," she says, "but there is little evidence of them hurrying homet o clean the house, particularly the bathroom." So women miss out on the informal after-hours socialising and swapping of ideas.

More women, she notes, work part-time and take up flexible working. "But the reality is that is much harder to network when you are making coffee at home. The BlackBerry and the phone are no substitute for face to face meetings or those casual discussions."

She says that many "far-sighted employers" do recgnise the need to change the male cultural bias and that informal women’s networks are springing up.

She moves onto mentoring. "I would not have got anywhere in my career without mentors, all of whom were male. I try, whenever I can, particularly to young women lawyers (as well as the occasional talented young man).

Cherie finishes by looking at how mentorng and networking can be spread across the world. Recalling her time as the wife of the Prime Minister, she says that "one of the common themes was the desire for women in the developing world to tap into the expereince of those who have already achieved so much.

"There is a massive opportunity for virtual women’s networks. I am personally very interested and want to make this a reality. Watch this space!"

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