Last week, Fairygodboss had the honor of convening over 100 industry leaders from 50 companies at The New York Times in New York to discuss how we can make women's employee resource groups more effective. We called our inaugural event "Galvanize: Making Women's Resource Groups Powerful."
For those of you who are unfamiliar, resource groups — also known as affinity groups, ERG’s, BRG’s, and employee networks — are peer organizations within a corporation that are designed to convene people of similar interests or backgrounds to help them find solidarity or community. According to Wikipedia, 90% of US corporations have resource groups of varying sizes, scopes, and mandates.
In my travels as the co-founder of Fairygodboss, I’ve been surprised to learn that for the most part, women’s resource groups currently operate discretely, without coordinating and collaborating with other resource groups from the same or other industries. Since the social mission of Fairygodboss is to improve the workplace for women by creating transparency, we thought that there was a fundamental opportunity to unite the leaders of women’s resource groups so that they could share learnings, knowledge and best practices.
Often, women’s groups are founded to support networking or mentoring relationships; but some of the most successful and impactful are those that legitimately effect policy or help place more women in leadership positions. Our hope is that if each resource group can become just a little bit more effective, we can expedite progress toward gender parity. By working together (instead of individually) and focusing on real action, women's resource groups can and should become a source of power and a force for real change.
We knew we were onto something when our initial humble group of 25 participants ballooned into a major program including 100 participants that represented 4 million employees globally. The 50 companies participating spanned Finance (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase), Consulting (McKinsey, BCG, ZS Associates, Deloitte), Tech (GoDaddy, ADP, Dell, Snap, SquareSpace, Zillow), Telecom (Sprint, T-Mobile), and many others. Sponsorship was provided by Accenture, IBM and The New York Times.
The one-and-a-half day event was filled with energy, optimism and intelligence. We were honored to have inspiring presentations from Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and HR Officer of Accenture, Beth Comstock, Vice Chair of GE, Karen Quintos, Chief Customer Officer of Dell, Mike Preston, Chief Talent Officer of Deloitte, and Deborah Rosado Shaw, SVP & Chief Global Diversity and Engagement Officer of PepsiCo. Their expert perspective helped provide guideposts to the room as they built new relationships and thought about ways to strengthen the networks they represented.
Some of the key takeaways for me from the three day event:
"Grab Agency. Don't Ask for Permission." - Beth Comstock
Many leaders of women's ERG's are volunteers who lack "official" power. Although it can be intimidating and daunting, we need these leaders can take the lead and step forward to seize on initiatives that will make substantive change. Female leaders should aggressively engage management and male allies to help support their cause.
More collaboration and support for each other is needed. Urgently. - Deborah Rosado Shaw
We hear consistently from Fairygodboss users that they feel isolated as they climb the corporate ladder. The good news is that resources groups are designed to help alleviate that sense of isolation; but the bad news is that many are not it well enough or quickly enough yet. Women must aggressively support each other, hold each other up, and help each other achieve positions of power; and we must remember that women are a diverse group, and we have to support all women especially those who are also marginalized due to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
"Be ambitious and specific." - Ellyn Shook
The Galvanize program kicked off with a conversation between Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and HR Officer of Accenture, and Susan Chira, Senior Gender Correspondent at The New York Times. Shook revealed her ambitious plans to achieve gender parity in the Accenture workforce -- over 400,000 employees globally - by 2025, and reminded us all that the only way real change comes about is to set bold targets - and be public about progress to them.
While the Galvanize program was in progress, The World Economic Forum reported new data that shows that workplace inequality is actually increasing around the world, and that the global gender gap will take 100 years to close. Meanwhile, reports of brazen and rampant sexual harassment continue to pour in from Hollywood and Silicon Valley. My belief is that the only way we can move toward progress is through strategic and precise coordination -- and I see no better place to start than with these resource groups. I look forward to continuing the conversation.
Interested in learning more about the Galvanize program, or joining our networking group? Email inquiries to email@example.com.