Posted by: ginalazenby | April 18, 2011

How to host a women’s gathering

one of our Womens Gatherings in London

As a prelude to a Women’s Gathering which I am hosting in Sydney on Wednesday April 20th, let me share how they all started….. (For the Sydney event, see the invite on facebook)

I have been hosting women’s gatherings, formally, for the last three years. It started with a monthly meeting of women entrepreneurs in London in April 2008 with my business partner Mynoo Blackbyrn.   We were all part of something called the XL Entrepreneur Network (XL = Extraordinary Lives).  Right at the start many of us were voicing our disappointment in the format of the monthly meetings being offered: a seminar room with all chairs facing the stage and a male expert speaker.

We wanted community and connection and we wanted to hear each other’s stories so we simply set up an alternative forum. Spurred on by a call from the floor “When are we going to have a meeting just for women” by XL member Illaria Poggesi, Mynoo and I  co-hosted a meeting each month in one of our homes in central London and created a wonderful community of business women who are still connected. Even women who were not able to join the gatherings felt part of something special as we continued to report back on what we were doing.  We all discussed what made it work so well and came up with the following insights that can form the basis of further women’s gatherings …. anywhere.

1 We meet first as women and secondly as business women.  Connection is important to us, we find the conversations nourishing then when we have the community element taken care of, we hold a formal meeting. Women tend not to separate their personal, family and business lives …. we show up as whole women and love to talk about anything.  It’s a way of doing business sideways: share about weight issues, not having time to do our nails, kids education and the need for a good accountant.  It’s who we are. Life!

2  Central location: it helped that Mynoo and I lived in central London but then we were casting our net round the membership spread across the whole city and acting as a hub. Subsequent gatherings that I have hosted have been in homes in cities across the world and the location has simply been based around the availability of a home with a good large gathering space (and a hostess willing to share her kitchen).  Make it central and reachable for whatever community you are aiming for.

3 Private space: this is the most important. It needs to take place in a home and not a public space. That way we immediately relax.  It makes a huge difference not having conversations overheard. We create a sacred space in which we can all be vulnerable and that allows the deepest of connections. You can become a circle of trust very quickly in the right space. In Sydney I have been lucky to book the Meditation Space, centrally located on Crown Street, and whilst we cannot cook there we can bring our own vegetarian food.

4 The role of food. We made food central. It helped that both Mynoo and I were confident cooks so we were happy to open our kitchens up and cook. Right from the get-go we decided that traditionally, women bonded over cooking, so we created the opportunity for those who wanted to, to come earlier and help prepare the food. Depending on the numbers, if you buy the food in the morning, 3-4 pairs of hands from 3pm can get food for 12-24 people ready in 3 hours.   Where this has not been possible we make it a pot-luck and ask everyone to bring a plate/dish. That way, many hands make light work. For some people coming from the office or a meeting, all they can do is buy prepared food but that’s fine. It’s the creation of the meal together that is so bonding; plus everyone helping to clear up. You get to know someone much better during this activity and busyness.

5 Everyone gets to speak. There is nothing worse than going to a meeting and just hearing the speaker. We all have wisdom, gems of knowledge and tips for each other. In our gatherings we share how we are with honesty and ask for what we need. The meeting is not built around a guest speaker. WE are the guest speakers!!  We decided it was less important to glean more information, more important to find support and be heard.

6 The business circle:  the circle format has power. My inspiration here is Jean Shinoda Bolen, author of ‘Urgent Message from Mother’ and ‘The Millionth Circle‘.  She says: “When women gather in circle with a sacred center, a space is created which calls forth collective wisdom and inspires personal passion. The world needs both right now.” (Read more at the bottom about what Jean says about Women’s Circles). in this circle of trust where everyone gets to speak, any request for help can be made. Whatever is affecting us emotionally or practical difficulty at home will have an impact on our business so nothing is too personal to throw into the pot.  It is a great format for a discussion group too. I have hosted conversations on events like Global Women’s Enterprise Day (read about it) and we have had wonderful conversations and insights.

7 Recording the event:  I always took a group photo at the end of the evening before people started to disappear. That way we were able to capture the energy and spirit of the event and share with others afterwards. Sometimes a volunteer would transcribe minutes with our requests for help and announcements which were circulated widely. In the early days I’d write up a newsletter with lots of colour photos …. that take a lot of commitment, but what it did do was create a profile for us in the larger global community.  Now with more use of social media, it is easier to maintain the connections and conversations in a Facebook group.

8 Timings: I have hosted women’s gatherings on a weekday lunchtime and on a Saturday but a midweek evening is what we did in London. We also varied the day of the week so that if someone had a yoga commitment on a Thursday night they would not be permanently excluded.  We opened our doors at 6pm, took an hour for drinks, chatting and final food prep then served the meal by 7pm.  Then we’d clear away and start the more formal business segment by 7.30pm or 8pm. (if we cleared away at the end we’d ask for some to stay on and help).  In London the formal meeting lasted for 2 hours and we would wrap up at 10pm. I notice in Sydney people like to finish earlier. Do whatever works in your location and local culture.

9 Costs: Mynoo and I have generally charged the equivalent of $15-20 to cover food costs and drinks.  Budget for room hire if you have to rent a space. Make it a more nominal figure if you are hosting a pot luck. The rule with money is to charge whatever feels right.

There is always a lot of healing when women gather and share deeply. That’s why it is important to hold this type of event in a private space and not a restaurant. Out of these conversations have grown many business partnerships and referrals and I have personally witnessed women growing into more confident leaders who truly are reaching their full potential. It is one of the most beautiful and nourishing experiences one can have and a real privilege to be part of. Gather your women friends and contacts together and try it.

You can watch a video of some of the London participants sharing what they got out of being part of the community we created from the Women’s Gatherings.

What Jean Shinoda Bolen says:
A proliferation of circles with a spiritual center becomes a worldwide healing force by bringing feminine values of relationship, nurturing, and interdependency into a global culture in which hierarchy, conflict and competition, power over others and exploitation of the earth’s resources are dominant values. Our aim is to celebrate the millionth circle as an idea whose time has come.

Everyone who has been drawn to the idea of“the millionth circle” is part of the millionth circle vision, and any event or circle that anyone creates that furthers the formation of more circles with a sacred center can freely define what they are doing as being part of the millionth circle vision.

• Create a circle.
• Consider it a sacred space.
• One person speaks at a time.
• Speak and listen from the heart.
• Encourage and welcome diverse points of view.
• Listen with discernment instead of judgment.
• Share leadership and resources.
• Decide together how decisions will be made.
• Work toward consensus when possible.
• Offer experience instead of advice.
• When in doubt or need, pause and silently ask for guidance.
• Decide together what is to be held in confidence.
• Speak from your own experience and beliefs rather than speaking for others.
• Open and close the circle by hearing each voice. (Check-ins and check-outs.)

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