Inaugural women's networking group event lauded
The first Women in Furniture Network (WIFN) mixer – entitled Cocktails, Canapés and Connections – proved a resounding success, paving the way for more like it, says Zoë Bonser, portfolio director at the networking group’s founder, Clarion Retail (January Furniture Show, Manchester Furniture Show, Home & Gift, Top Drawer, Scotland Trade Fair and Reveal).
“At Clarion, we recognise the incredible talent and expertise that women bring to the industry, and we believe in providing an equal platform to network, collaborate and excel,” she explains. “We understand that networking is crucial for professional development – but we also recognise that women sometimes face unique challenges and biases.
“By creating a dedicated space, free from judgment or bias, we look forward to empowering women to build their networks, expand their horizons, and take bold strides towards their career aspirations.”
June’s networking event, which was co-hosted by The Furniture Makers’ Company, saw Zoë and other leading women from the sector speak about their experiences. Amanda Waring, the master of The Furniture Makers’ Company (and accomplished garden designer) opened with a rallying cry for the livery company’s 60–60 campaign, and talked about her family’s long-standing ties with the sector.
Dids Macdonald OBE, CEO of Anti Copying in Design (ACID) then stepped up, calling for more representation and relevance: “Looking out to a roomful of women is a historic moment. Twenty years ago this would not have happened in livery companies, nor within our own industry – it would have been a sea of men. But in a sector where, at most, between 20-25% are women, there is still a long way to go.
“Greater diversity leads to greater creativity. The greater the variety of perspectives and life experiences we have, the greater the ideas, thoughts, new and fresh thinking enters the mix, and appealing to the widest talent base possible is the key to this – more talent, wider creativity. If we, as a sector, focus on our biggest ‘minority’ first, it is clear we need more women engaged, helping to build better workplaces, where they can thrive and contribute on subjects that affect us all.”
Donna Bellingham, former CEO of Parker Knoll and other leading brands, then praised the women she had encountered in her career, and said she believed it was up to women to lead the way, by identifying the talent of the future, offering support and mentoring.
At its close, attendees and speakers alike were full of praise for the event. Justine Haywood, Tokyo Fabrics International, commented: “What a fabulous afternoon! It was nice to speak to like-minded people from different backgrounds and environments and share our experiences in the furniture industry.”
Natasha Shillingford, La-Z-Boy UK, said: “It’s an overused word, but it really was inspiring to attend the inaugural WIFN event. It was lovely to meet so many new faces, reconnect with people I haven’t seen in years, and most importantly be a part of something that will be key to driving change within our industry.”
Amanda Waring stated: “It was so great to be part of this amazing event. The room was buzzing with enthusiasm and colour!”
Dids Macdonald added: “It was a resounding success. I closed my eyes and the buzz was palpable. What a fab initiative. Networking together, in person – after the pandemic, and fighting the Zoom culture – it was inspiring to speak to so many amazing women. Many congratulations to Zoë Bonser for being the driving force behind this, and thanks to your wonderful Clarion team. You have brought a new and exciting dynamic into the mix!”
Zoë concludes: “I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the incredible women who joined us – your presence and energy truly made it an evening to remember.
“I invite all women in the UK furniture sector to join WIFN, and I look forward to seeing many of you at our events soon – more are planned, at various venues throughout the UK.”
Join WIFN’s LinkedIn showcase page to stay up to date with the latest developments, and discover more from the event in August's Furniture News.