7 Steps You Can’t Afford to Miss When Building a Women’s ERG at Your Company

Valerie Kay, Chief Capital Officer of LendingClub

Valerie Kay, Chief Capital Officer of LendingClub. Photo: Krisanne Johnson

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The World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 217 years to close the workplace gender gap. At Fairygodboss, we’re making it our mission to shorten that timeline. That’s why we convene an annual summit, GALVANIZE, that’s designed to equip business leaders with actionable strategies that will make their women’s networks more powerful. 

Held Oct. 15-16 in New York City, GALVANIZE 18 convened more than 200 executives and leaders of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Among the speakers was Valerie Kay, Chief Capital Officer of LendingClub, who shared the insight she’s gained while leading her women’s network, LCWIN [Women’s Internal Network]. She spoke about seven key practices that have helped her develop and increase the efficacy of her own ERG:

1. Make the group structured. 

When Kay joined LC WIN in in 2016, there was no one leading the group; it was run by a committee. “There were strong, talented women on the steering committee, but after about six months, I said I would like to try to run [the group] because I felt like it needed more structure,” she said. Kay suggests running an ERG like you’d run a business, with formal leadership roles in place. She added that LCWIN is in the process of rewriting its business plan with intentionality; as she and her colleagues approach their strategy, they ask themselves, “How do we take what we have and help advance women at LC and be very prescriptive about it?”

2. Think about your clients — just like you would when running a business.

When launching a women’s ERG, Kay says that the first question you should ask is, “who is my client?” [Hint: your client is women at your company!] Ask yourself what they need and what they want. “We send out surveys and we send out questionnaires to find out what they need and what they want — just like running any business,” Kay explained. 

3. Find an executive sponsor...

...and do your research before approaching them. “If you have this idea and you want to launch something, do your research. Don’t go in cold,” Kay said. “Go to the CEO or executive sponsor, [show them the data], and say, ‘We need this. Do I have your sponsorship? Will you be supportive?’”

The executive sponsor should be someone who helps you with budgeting and influencing, and someone who galvanizes support and resources for you. “If I’m asking for more money, if I can tie it to a business need, it always makes it easier for an executive to say yes,” Kay added.

4. Think about both short- and long-term goals before you launch the group.

Be thoughtful about what short-term goals you need to set in order to set yourself up for long-term success. Kay suggests recruiting a steering committee and co-chairs so you can launch the group with an effective infrastructure. LCWIN, she shared, has decided to focus on four particular areas: professional development, networking, mentorship, and trying to give back to the business. Within each of these areas, LCWIN has different people in charge who set specific goals. 

5. Collaborate with other like-minded groups and initiatives at your company.

No employee resource group exists in a vacuum, and oftentimes, there are other internal networks with similar missions that can amplify each others’ efforts. At LendingClub, for example, LCWIN has partnered with the company’s Diversity and Inclusion initiative, sharing best practices and making both group’s agendas even stronger. 

Because LCWIN has been a particularly effective ERG, it’s become a model for all of LendingClub’s ERGs. “We coordinate calendars, we cohost, we cosponsor, we do events together — and I think that is very helpful,” Kay said. “We also have a playbook, we have a business plan, and we share how we came up with the business plan and how we were able to recruit executives.”

6.  Plan for the future generation of female leaders.

Make sure your ERG works with executive leaders on succession planning. At LendingClub, for instance, there’s a program in place to elevate women into leadership roles. “We’ve handpicked about 30 women who we think are the next people to be promoted to senior director or VP; this is our next generation of future leaders,” Kay said. “We’re investing time and money in them to help them figure out how to go up the ladder and elevate themselves.” 

The company also hosts a lunch and learn series twice a month where senior women talk about who they are and how they got to where they are now. 

7.  Engage men. 

Though women’s networks are implemented to help elevate women, engaging is critical to these groups’ success. “We try to involve men as much as possible because it’s an opportunity to educate and implement,” Kay said. As men are so often sitting at the top of businesses with much of the decision-making power, involving them is critical. That’s why LendingClub has recently launched an allyship program through which they approach male leaders and ask them to take specific actions in order to serve as allies.