What is networking these days?

As a 20-something in a corporate PR agency world where my work days were spent in power suits, photocopying press releases and stuffing them in envelopes to send to the media by post, the idea I would ever be confident enough to network, let alone the idea of being able to wear Converse and jeans to the office, would have seemed ludicrous.
It was only recently that the penny dropped – networking is just meeting new people, having a conversation and finding out what you have in common or what you find interesting about each other. Kind of dating in the business world. In the best case scenario your meeting may translate into business; worst case you’ll never bump into each other again or, somewhere in the middle, you might become a connection on LinkedIn or similar which may be useful in the future.
I now realise that every time I leave the house I may meet someone who might be relevant to my professional life as both a PR agency head and co-founder of a diversity consultancy or my role as a school governor. The great thing is that sometimes there are amazing overlaps. Some people say the business card is dead but it remains a fast, efficient way to exchange details, rather than fumbling for your mobile to type in a name and number which can halt the interesting conversation you’re having with your new contact.
I try not to go anywhere without my cards (yes I know that makes me sound like a Tarot reader) they have been known to make an appearance at Kwik Fit (other tyre changing companies are available), on a night out with the girls and even my children’s parties where I’ve struck up interesting conversations with fellow parents about business over fairy cakes, bright orange crisps and party bags.
Networking has changed for me, perhaps helped by the internet; social networking and my increased confidence with age as I now realise I won’t shrivel up if I speak to stranger. What has also changed is that women are now perpetuating networking by setting up small groups; national networks and informal ‘get togethers’ between likeminded business women.
In the last few weeks I have been to two events in some ways polar opposites but both absolutely inspirational and motivating. Firstly, a small gathering of highly successful business women in a range of sectors from law, banking, manufacturing, recruitment and exporting. Oh yes and of course PR. A relaxed evening where the focus was unashamedly upon making connections. The fantastic by-product of these events is meeting people who understand challenges faced as a woman and parent in business. This is why role models that reflect us and who we are make such a difference.
Which brings me neatly onto the second event, the launch of an online magazine, gal-dem.com, aimed at women of colour started by a group of female students at Bristol University. The online platform acts as a community to showcase a truly inspirational range of creative talent fostering a progressive outlet to produce content which reflects women of colour generated by women of colour. I was blown away by the energy and raw, positive power in the room. These women at the start of their adult lives are already aware of the importance of networking face to face and expanding connections for professional (and often personal) benefit.If I had been born twenty years later than I was maybe I would not have been the shy girl in the room in a power suit, feeling anything but powerful, hovering on the edge of conversations between business people, usually men, much older than myself who, in reality I probably had little in common with anyway. I now realise what I needed was a mentor or coach to help me along the way.