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Stone speaks: Building female networks

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In a new series for HRZone, Glenda Stone CEO of Aurora, the international organisation working for the economic advancement of women taps at the glass ceiling and speaks out about the issues women face in the workplace.


Networks for women accelerate cultural change through constructive and rigorous dialogue about business issues from a gender perspective, they provide a platform for sharing knowledge, developing skills, practicing strategies, meeting contacts and creating opportunities. Women who participate in effective networks accelerate their careers faster.

Why do these networks exist?
Successful ‘Women’s Networks’ and ‘Gender Forums’ exist because they are fundamentally linked to the company’s core business, competitive value and revenue. Effective networks deliver positive cultural change, organic community growth, and develop talent.

Challenges to establishing a successful network
Establishing a successful network requires many steps. It takes considerable planning, correct branding, and shared ownership for organic growth. Timely high-impact initiatives, and senior leadership support are also key factors in establishing an effective network.

Steps to building a successful women’s network
Effective, high-energy, self-sustaining networks exhibit 10 common elements including:

1. Clear purposes and objectives
Define goals and missions regarding the network’s existence and deliverables. Have clearly aligned aims with the company’s values, priorities and core business focus.

2. Organic growth and shared ownership
Develop a self-sustaining network that is owned and contributed to by many members. Increased ownership means greater participation. Successful networks provide the infrastructure for all kinds of formal and informal interactions and initiatives to occur.

3. Brand and reputation
Develop an effective identity that inspires and drives the members. Brand and reputation are fundamental to a network’s success. Internal communications play a major role in supporting the promotion and understanding of the network’s identity. Networks have a name.

4. Support of senior leaders
Secure public support from senior managers. An old saying says, “When you clean the stairs you have to start at the top.”

5. Suitable resourcing
Secure budget to run the network during work hours and gain good visibility. Informal self-initiated support groups may result from the formalised network.

6. Diverse input and experience
Share management of the network to ensure diverse input and shared ownership. A central coordinating committee may manage the infrastructure, but the life of the network should be managed in association with its members.

7. High impact initiatives
Deliver a range of initiatives and try not to become solely ‘event dependent’. Deliver the right online and offline initiatives to ensure greater suitability.

8. Supportive environment
Develop a comfortable and supportive culture and ensure participation is invited from all levels of the company. Relationship building, mentoring and coaching play an important role.

9. Targeted outcomes
Identify clear milestones for monitoring deliverables. Pre-identified outcomes enable greater focus and direction.

10. Visibility
Secure positive internal and external visibility. Announce the network’s success, archive resources for wider use, and gain positive press coverage.

Some good examples
When creating a successful women’s network, it is very important to research other companies to see what they have accomplished. One useful website is www.wherewomenwanttowork.com, which is a free online service for women to research and compare organisations and comment on the best places to work.

It also provides useful information about women’s networks and initiatives. For example, IBM UK Limited reported that often women are not comfortable joining existing male dominated networks and networking activities. IBM therefore provided opportunities for women by creating internal networks and supporting external women’s networks. These provide an avenue for women to seek solutions to common problems as well as provide increased exposure for women and potential role models and mentors.

A good network can deliver positive results. When women feel that there is a forum to share ideas and build relationships, they feel more comfortable and will be able to give 100% to their overall performance. Creating a network can at first be quite difficult, but in the end many women will be grateful for its opportunities.


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Annie Hayes

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