Helping Working Women Around the World ‘See the Impossible as a Possible’

Sponsored by Robert Half

Stephnee Leathers and Carrie Toal

Robert Half’s Stephnee Leathers (left) and Carrie Toal. Photo courtesy of Quentin Bacon.

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May 22, 2024 at 10:47AM UTC

Too many women in the world — in history, really — who could have used moral support and solid connections to help them reach their career goals have been left wanting. At talent solutions firm Robert Half, the recently formed Global Women’s Employee Network (GWEN) is focused on helping to prevent that from happening to the many women professionals across the company’s global workforce.

GWEN’s mission is to champion and amplify women’s perspectives while creating networks and growth opportunities for women. Its international membership of 750+ strives to improve the employee experience globally and help support the commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that’s shared by Robert Half and its consulting and internal audit business, Protiviti

GWEN launched in March 2021 as a global network with established chapters in North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Robert Half employees Stephnee Leathers and Carrie Toal are the co-founders of this Employee Network Group (ENG).

Leathers is the Senior Director of Creative Services for Robert Half and Protiviti. She’s been with the company for nearly two decades and has held creative leadership roles for most of her tenure. Toal is the Senior Program Manager for Employee Experience at Robert Half and leads the company’s Employee Listening Strategy and U.S. Corporate Services Culture Ambassador program. She’s been working at Robert Half for about six years as part of the company’s human resources team.

We recently interviewed Leathers and Toal to learn more about them, what inspired them to found GWEN, and what the group has accomplished in its first few months. Here’s what they had to say.

Why did you decide to launch GWEN? What inspired you?

Leathers: GWEN came to life about three years after Carrie and I attended an International Women’s Day event, where we connected with a small group of women at our table in the most extraordinary and meaningful way. We shared with and learned from each other, and we wanted to keep the conversation going, so we created a women’s network on the social networking service, Yammer. 

Then, last summer, as Robert Half was laying the groundwork for its various ENGs, we knew it was the right time to start preparing to launch GWEN. Another key inspiration for starting GWEN was the pressure of the pandemic, which has been challenging for us as working parents. We were really feeling the weight of isolation and the lack of connection, and we wanted to reach out to other women who were experiencing the same thing.

Toal: McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace 2020” study really underscored for us just how many women out there were feeling like we were, and why starting a group like GWEN was so important. That study highlighted a serious issue: One in four women and one in three mothers were considering leaving the workplace, including women in senior leadership roles. If companies couldn’t help to ease the burnout and stress of women in the workplace, they wouldn’t be able to retain them, and that could set back gender equality progress in the workplace by 10 years.

How often do you hold GWEN meetings? And how do you structure those meetings and set goals for your group?

Leathers: GWEN holds global monthly meetings at rotating times to provide updates on our global membership and programs. Usually, we’ll also include a panel session or an interactive group activity. 

As for goals and priorities, we set those in partnership with GWEN’s Executive Sponsors and our Advisory Board and align them to our initial member interest survey and volunteer support. Our core goals include focusing on the professional development of women and increasing recruitment and retention of women employees at Robert Half.

Toal: GWEN has only been up and running for a few months, but we’ve already done some amazing things. In May 2021, for example, we held our first “WE Series” programs in North America and the United Kingdom. The inspiration for the series is based on the GWEN goal of “connection.” This series is an ongoing program that seeks to feature impactful speakers discussing relevant and insightful topics in an authentic way. It also provides a platform for connection and advocacy for each other to offer independent support and ensure that our voices are being heard by our managers and senior leadership at Robert Half. 

Another recent accomplishment is the June 2021 launch of our pilot “Lean In Circles” with GWEN’s North American members. We’re doing this in partnership with The Circles enable small groups to connect about a common interest area to share with and learn from each other, reach developmental goals, build leadership skills and receive advocacy and support to create a more equitable workplace.

How have you used your role at Robert Half to help bring up other women behind you? And how do you build time into your schedule to do that?

Leathers: I’ve been fortunate to have women peers and leaders at Robert Half who have helped inspire me to be a better leader. I’m a firm believer in lifting others up. I’m trying to provide growth and development opportunities for women who aspire to expand their careers. It’s also about helping those women find a sponsor who has their back, stay top of mind with leaders for new opportunities and feel confident in achieving the goals they determine are part of their journey.

Toal: As a co-founder of GWEN, I look to help amplify and champion women’s perspectives while creating global networks, community and growth opportunities. I model ways to bring up other women to learn from each other, take risks in a safe place to provide learning and growth, and participate in a community that supports them unconditionally. I believe that through leading by example, other women — and allies — can see the impossible as a possible.

As for my volunteer time, that’s a labor of love and a juggling act. I use time that I carve out of my primary workday to collaborate with Stephnee on GWEN strategy and program logistics for members, discuss how we’ll divide and conquer member and Advisory Board correspondence and prepare for Advisory Board and Executive Sponsor meetings. And, if there are GWEN-related meetings during the workday, then I need to juggle my after-hours work time along with my duties as a soccer mom.

Why do you believe Robert Half is a particularly supportive place for women employees?

Leathers: Women make up more than half of the global workforce at Robert Half, including Protiviti. As a result, GWEN is the largest ENG. We have strong senior leadership support and commitment throughout the company to achieve greater balance for underrepresented groups such as women, including at the senior level.

Toal: This support is recognized outside of the company as well. Robert Half has been selected for the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index for the third consecutive year because of the company’s commitment to supporting gender equality in our organization and the communities we serve. We support women’s educational opportunities and job development in our communities through a variety of partnerships, including with Catalyst, PDT Global, Dress for Success, Girls Inc., Diversity Council of Australia, Afeso in Latin America and, of course, Fairygodboss.

What do you think other companies can learn from how Robert Half manages its ENG and DEI initiatives?

Toal: The best way they can learn is by observing our core beliefs. Robert Half is committed to creating an environment where employees can connect, grow and thrive. In fact, that’s part of our mission statement. The company’s DEI philosophy acknowledges diversity, equity and inclusion as foundational to our business, our workplace and our community. Robert Half is on a journey to invest in long-term sustained progress. And while we acknowledge our progress, we also recognize that there is more work to do. 

I think that understanding and appreciating the unique perspectives of our people is what makes us stronger as individuals, as teams and as a company. We are better together. The more we work together to lift each other up and seek out opportunities for growth, learning and connection, the more we develop a pool of talents that can be a model for other companies.

Leathers: I would add that at Robert Half, and in the world, we’re at a pivotal moment where we can all improve our experiences and opportunities for each other. And it’s the collective “WE” in GWEN that helps to inspire and empower us to create and support the experiences that matter most to each of us.        


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Robert Half is an Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/Disability/Veterans.        

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