The NextWomen Meet Vanessa Vallely, Founder WeAreTheCity
After 23 years in Financial Services, Vanessa Vallely has recently won the 'Champion for Women' award at the 'Women in Banking & Finance Awards 2011' and has also been recognised as one of Financial News’ 'Top 100 Rising Stars in Financial Services' across Europe, The Middle East & Africa
Vanessa created WeAreTheCity three years ago to provide City and female centric information to women in the Square Mile and Canary Wharf. The purpose of the site is to aid its members' development through the promotion of learning events and professional and lifestyle advice.
We are asked Vanessa why she created WeAreTheCity and about the value the site brings to today’s City Women.
"Back in 2008 I was a frustrated, career-orientated mum of two. I realised that if I wanted to move on in my career I needed to seek other development opportunities outside of my Corporate environment.
It only took me a year or so to work out that developing my career was not at the top of my bosses’ agenda and that my boat wasn’t going to come in; I had to swim out to it.
"I had heard of women’s networking groups before but to be honest I had bought in to the stereotype that these were feminist gatherings where they burned bras and effigies of men! How wrong could I have been! Who would have thought that my frustration would not only lead me to create a solution to the problem, but through that process I would become such a huge advocate of women’s networks?!
"Despite my original preconception about their value, researching them in more detail felt like a sensible place to start. I reverted to the old fashioned Google search and what appeared was nothing short of information overload.
There were multiple groups offering all different kinds of support: some were industry specific; some were senior Women only; others wanted hard cash for what I could see was little in return.
"My frustration was caused by the amount of information I would have to wade through in order to make an informed decision about where I invested my time and what I would get in return.
"What I actually wanted was a one stop shop that could provide me with a synopsis of all of the City women’s networks, a centralized place where I could see what events were running in my area; a place where I could read articles written by experts that would contribute to my development or spark my creative juices; and, if possible, (we are women after all) provide me with a bit of City lifestyle guidance, e.g. where to entertain my clients, where to drink with my colleagues, where to shop in the concrete jungle and perhaps even where to get my nails done! Despite searching, I quickly found that no such website existed.
So after a bit of convincing from my husband and friends that this was a good idea, coupled with the results of our market research, www.wearethecity.com was born.
"From the very first scribble on what the site would look like to the website's launch took approximately 5 months. My husband and I went for our annual weekend away without the children in April 2008 and by the first week of September we were live on the Internet with 10 signed up members.
I remember we opened a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the fact that 10 people had joined the site after the 1st week.
"It didn’t matter that most of the members were in fact our family or those that had helped us with our market research; we had our own website and we were out there for all to see on the big World Wide Web. I was also proud that we hadn’t borrowed money from the Bank to create our dream. To the contrary, we actually built the first WeAreTheCity website on a cheap Internet web builder which cost us £8 per month. It wasn’t fancy by any means, but it was functional and a risk free way of running a proof of concept.
"When I look at how the website has developed over the past few years, I find it hard to believe how far we have come.
We have well over 150,000 hits per month and a signed up membership of 6,500 City Women.
"We have run 8 successful events and have partnered with some of the City’s largest corporates. We have had media coverage and been given the opportunity to run advertising campaigns for a number of leading brands. We have rebuilt the website with state of the art functionality and thanks to our 50+ writers we now offer a whole host of articles on a myriad of development orientated subjects. Most recently we launched our own TV channel as an alternative way of communicating and inspiring our members, and the story doesn’t end there I can assure you.
"What I find hard to believe is how an idea that started so small has gone on to benefit so many City Women: from our readers who benefit from the donated articles of our writers, to the writers themselves who now have a platform to publish their content; from the women’s networks who now have a centralised channel to publish their events, to the women who go to these events to broaden their skills and networks.
True to our values, we still continue to provide a route to market for entrepreneurs, small businesses and charities to engage with City women.
"Thanks to the women’s networks engaging with WeAreTheCity, we are also able to promote learning opportunities and events that wouldn’t normally be seen as part of a Corporate Learning & Development programme. Events such as “How to prepare yourself for a board position”, “How to raise your profile” or even “How to network”.
"It is fair to say that WeAreTheCity would not be successful if it wasn’t for our members, our writers or the many City women’s networks that partner with us. The likes of 'Women in Banking and Finance', 'The European Women’s Network', 'City Women’s Network' and 'Women in Technology', all of which provide a myriad events to support and promote female development. A majority of these networks are staffed by volunteers, all of whom generously give up their time to ensure that women have access to the opportunities that they need to enhance their skills and fulfill their career aspirations. There is such power in these networks and WeAretheCity are extremely proud to be a conduit to help them to help others fulfill their potential and gain new skills.
"The website now provides the exact information I once sought as a frustrated professional, and then some.
We serve an audience of over 70,000 City Women, we have raised over £10,000 for various charities, plus we have provided a start for many small businesses and entrepreneurs. In addition, WeAreTheCity has become the little black book for City Women".
"We have also fulfilled a number of our social responsibility goals. When we first started, we pledged that joining WeAreTheCity would always be free, therefore accessible to every woman who sets foot in the City. We also committed to giving free advertising space to all charities and for those who could not afford advertising fees. This still holds firm today whereby over 40% of our sites content is devoted to these causes.
"WeAreTheCity will hopefully continue in this guise for years to come. A big intention of ours is to help arm women with the skills they need to progress to senior positions and to become “board ready”. We believe we are already on the right path and the opportunity to raise awareness of the value we add via well known vehicles such as ‘The NextWomen’ magazine is one we very much appreciate.
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