1. How can we make our women’s network more diverse?

When a workplace lacks equal female representation, there can be a particular challenge around ensuring that its women’s network is diverse and representative of the full breadth of the female experience within the organisation, sector and industry, as well as its customer base. It can easily become a catch-22 situation where if the network is homogenous, it’s potentially less likely to attract new members representing everything from the full breadth of age ranges to job functions, disability to neurodiversity, ethnicity to sexuality and many more forms of diversity. This is where it can be useful—essential even—for organisers to look beyond a business framework, or possibly even their industry’s landscape, for contributors and speakers. 

‘A challenge we’ve experienced at Lenovo is that where certain topics are concerned—particularly around tech matters—we have a limited number of senior females and role models who can effectively lead the conversation. This is where external outreach can come into its own,’ says Jane Ashworth, Lenovo’s Global Retail Programs Director and the voice of the UK arm of its global Women in Lenovo Leadership Program (WILL), which is accessed by its approximately 500 UK-based women. 

‘I’ve worked hard to build up informal network alliances with various external organisations, which I can tap into if I need a speaker on a particular subject, such as for an International Women’s Day event. There are so many amazing females in the IT industry, and to be able to access a range of individuals who are experiencing the same challenges as we are here within Lenovo is just invaluable.  

M&G Investments have taken this approach where they’re trying to encourage more black females within the organisation to join the gender network. Says it’s committee member, Jayven Sandy, Product Owner – Low Code Technologies, M&G Investments:  

‘Our gender network, Elevate, has a partnership with Black Women in Asset Management, an organisation that promotes black women who work in the industry. Personally, I have found that there are lots of black females in senior roles in the financial services sector, but I don’t see them in my day-to-day working life. I have to go to a specific event to access them, and that’s something I really want to change, so bringing in those external networks really helps,’ continues Jayven. 

Think about… 

  • Taking advantage of any existing company partnerships and initiatives that your network could align with for mutual benefit. Do they have diverse role models who could come in and speak to your women? Likewise, can your women find career-enhancing speaking opportunities by being positioned as a role model at the third party’s events? 

2. How can we make an impact with a limited budget?

Industry or topic experts often come with a price tag that’s beyond the means of an employee resource group (ERG). And where budgets are limited, it does perhaps make more sense to allocate spending towards activities where there’s a clearer ROI—such as a training session where the facilitator carries a cost. But that doesn’t mean that panel talks and keynote speakers are out of bounds. 

‘My role is to help align the objectives between our three existing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) across Gender, Disability and Ethnicity and our People Team at Samsung UK,’ says Nicola Williams, People Team Graduate at Samsung, with responsibility for DE&I and Wellbeing. The Women@Samsung ERG, for example, now has over 200 members across the UK and Ireland. 

‘With an increased responsibility to be cost-effective with what we do within the current financial climate where there is more focus on managing budget spending, our task is to find more creative ways to deliver value to our members and to be focused on what messages and work we are trying to deliver. Booking an external speaker, for example, will always be something that lends credibility and value to some of our activity, but we also have to ask ourselves if we are making the most of the vast talent and experience, we have within Samsung, who have real-time learnings to share, to create authentic home-grown activities.’  

She adds, ‘Recently, we put on an event with a panel featuring different people within the business who are all comfortable speaking and delivering the one Samsung message, and we found we had some of the best feedback we’ve had for any of our recent events which is testament to our colleagues.  Since then, we’ve also looked to our benefit provider partners to create content for us. For example, our Employee Assistance Programme provided us with really valuable content on the challenges of Menopause in the workplace and our Wellbeing app provider contributed to a mental health panel event we recently delivered. Finding external speakers for those kinds of sessions can be of use and is always an option for us across different events, but it’s not always necessary when you have these types of credible speakers already in the business or our network.’ 

Think about… 

  • Collaborating with outside experts who offer pro-bono time. Your organisation doesn’t need to have or develop expertise to be able to provide insight around particular topics. 
  • Looking internally for the talent and perspectives you can already leverage, which will cost you nothing. What extra-curricular interests do your members have or who do they know?
  • Take full advantage of everywoman’s resources, such as our Workshop in a box. It enables anyone in your women’s network to host a powerful session on a subject that might not find its way onto your agenda if you were to rely purely on expertise within the business. 

3. How do we really move the dial in a big organisation?

It takes a sustained effort, purposefulness, and time to influence change, and often the larger the organisation, the more concerted the drive will need to be to sway mindsets and behaviours. 

Changemakers often talk about the drive towards diversity and inclusion as being a series of ‘nudges’, and creative thinking can be a crucial factor in how effective those doing the nudging are likely to be.  

‘Moving the dial is the biggest challenge,’ says Lenovo’s Jane Ashworth. ‘What I come up against, particularly in the IT industry, is that it tends to be the majority recruiting the majority. I’m really interested to work through this and explore how we move out of that comfort zone. For me and for our network, that means asking ourselves how we can agitate the system and make decisions that may not be normal for the business, but can drive the cultural change that we’re all striving towards.’ 

Gemma Thomson, Project Manager at Centrica takes a lead role in their Women’s Network, which has 1,110 members across the UK, North America and Denmark. She adds: ‘One idea we implemented for our International Women’s Day was to bring together around the table a smaller group of slightly less senior leaders and have a discussion on equity. We saw this as a way to challenge them around what they’re doing to do differently—now and in the future.  

‘We find that people always enjoy our events; they come, they listen. But we want there to be action. So we ask ourselves, how do we constructively agitate? How do we keep challenging? Conversations are powerful, but in large organisations it can be more effective to start small, rather than trying to talk to everyone. You can end up influencing more change and bring more people along that way.’ 

Think about… 

  • Raising awareness in discussions structured around smaller groups of influence. 
  • Challenging people directly on what they are going to do differently to turn understanding into tangible action.  

4. How do we grow our network and reach the widest audience?

When a network is trying to influence change, there’s enormous power in numbers. But for committee members who have day jobs and run networks off the side of their desks, the strive for growth is a constant challenge. One solution is to join forces with your other internal networks to leverage one another’s distribution points and communication channels.

‘The main challenge that we find across all of the employee resource groups is reaching out to people,’ says M&G’s Jayven Sandy. ‘We’re in a chicken/egg situation where we have mailing lists for people who have joined our network—around 270 employees at the moment, globally. They’ll receive all our communications – invitations to webinars, mentorship circles and discussion groups, and wellbeing tips, etcetera – but how do we reach those employees who aren’t part of the network? And how do they find out about the network if they aren’t receiving the comms?   

We’re looking at how we can come together across all our internal networks to create a central communication point, so that we’re talking to a collective. Most people of ethnicity are in ‘Embrace’, our cultural network, so there’s an opportunity to now get them to join the gender network. 

‘There’s also a big piece around messaging,’ says Jayven. ‘We want male allies to join the gender network, but often when you hear ‘gender network’ you think ‘women’s network’. Similarly, unless a women’s network specifically targets black women, we’re just not there. So we’ve added words like ‘empower all colleagues’ to our communications so nobody looks at those comms and those invites and thinks, ‘That isn’t for me’.’   

Think about… 

  • Bringing in central communication channels to broadcast a collective awareness of various networks and resources. 
  • Consider who you might be excluding with language or a lack of direct engagement, and how to put more dynamism into building relationships with all communities and individuals. 

An everywomanChampions membership allows those individuals working to drive forward their organisation’s diversity and inclusion goals to benefit from the sharing of knowledge and experience with their peers in other companies and sectors. Eligible members may be part of the executive leadership team with responsibility for DEI goals, sit within the HR function, or have committee involvement in their organisation’s women’s network or gender affinity group and demonstrate a clear passion for women’s inclusion within their organisation or sector. 


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