Much has been reported about the impact of the pandemic on women. Whilst the overnight switch to remote working has, for the majority, been undeniably beneficial, it is yet to be seen how working from home will impact female inclusion in business in the long-term.
With this in mind, the need for women’s networks and gender employee resource groups has never been greater. Their role in bringing women together and ensuring their voices are heard- whilst showcasing role models and allowing career-boosting friendships, sponsorship and mentoring opportunities to flourish, has arguably never been more significant.
While hybrid working presents numerous challenges to ERG leaders, it also offers opportunities for networks to diversify, reach larger audiences, enable greater inclusive practices and reinforce organisational values.
Building inclusive events through accessibility
The worldwide Covid-19 lockdown demanded a gargantuan pivot to working, meeting and collaborating via digital platforms. As we came out of the pandemic and slowly returned to office life, a hybrid model emerged which gave women’s networks and employee resource groups an opportunity to put inclusion at the heart of their activity plans.
‘Being able to put on hybrid webinars and record them so anybody can join in had a positive impact—and creating an online hybrid event is a lot easier and cheaper than an in-person event,’ says Jayven Sandy, Product Owner – Low Code Technologies, M&G Investments and facilitator of its global Elevate women’s network. ‘It also meant we could time events so that our Mumbai colleagues could join in the working day as well as our UK colleagues.’
‘Now that we’re trying to revert into the office, we’re finding attendance at in-person events is low. We don’t want to give up on that aspect of community building- because it’s lovely, but hybrid has opened new ways of reaching people,’ she adds.
For Jane Ashworth, Global Retail Programs Director and voice of the Women in Leadership program at Lenovo, a few key things ensure success for the future of hybrid events: ‘You have to send the invites out as early as possible to secure time in people’s diaries, and then follow-up with reminders. You have to work on your key messages and be really clear with the audience about what they’re going to learn by coming to the session. [Without the draw of being amongst colleagues in a room], the key things they’ll get from the session will be what get them excited about attending.’
- Timings are crucial for ensuring your online events get maximum attendance. When drafting your calendar consider who you might be excluding.
- Invites to online events must be succinct and outcome-focused for the audience: How is the session going to benefit them?
Rediscovering the lunch break
‘When scheduling a learning hour, panel talk or even an informal catch-up session for your network, it can be tempting to block out the lunch break. Filling this vital downtime, however, can often be at odds with the wellbeing of your network’s members,’ says Nicola Williams, People Team Graduate at Samsung, with responsibility for DE&I and Wellbeing, ‘It’s easy to do the whole ‘Lunch and Learn’ thing, but from a wellbeing point of view, if we’re asking people to make sure they’re taking their breaks, we don’t then want to put anything over that lunch break; that goes against everything we want to talk about around colleague wellbeing.’
By tweaking your timeslot, however, you can give your members an opportunity to take some time out of their working day to attend your event—and use the opportunity to fortify your organisation’s wellness policy. Lenovo’s Jane Ashworth explains: ‘We generally do our online events from 11am to 12pm, either on a Thursday or Friday. This is when people are least likely to be with clients, but the other big reason is because at the end of the session, we can tell them to take a break for lunch because we don’t want them working through this period.’
- When scheduling your events, consider what message you’re sending regarding your expectations as to how members use their time.
- As your session closes, what messages can you impart that encourage members to take a break rather than head straight back to their to-do lists?
Diversifying your networks
Many organisations have always operated out of a remote workforce, such as those with retail workers spread across nationwide stories or with regional agents who work at some distance from head office. Where they would previously have been effectively excluded from networking events, such as a keynote speech delivered in the atrium at a London office, hybrid working presents the possibility of them joining online events. As well as bolstering inclusion, this has a positive impact on the diversity of your network, which of course, will be infinitely most successful and impactful if it represents individuals from different geographies and numerous other intersections that may be otherwise missing.
Agata Trafna, Internal Auditor at Centrica, whose women’s network has members throughout the UK, North America and Denmark, says: ‘Centrica is a massive business with many different parts to it and colleagues spread out across the whole country. The flexibility of hybrid working helps [our networks] collaborate better and ensures that everyone can be included, from field agents to female engineers.’
Gemma Thomson, Project Manager at Centrica, adds, ‘Hybrid has been a great way to increase our reach within our gender network of over 1,100 members. The people that we find it hardest to tap into are those in our contact centres and those out in the field, such as engineers in customers’ homes. These groups are speaking to customers or in customers’ homes, so they don’t always have the flexibility to manage their own schedules. This can mean they aren’t able to get as involved with networks, so even in a hybrid world we still have a challenge around how we connect with those people and bring them into the networks.’
- Identify sections of your organisation who may be absent from your networks. What communication channels and events can be employed to bring them into the fold?
Reimagining the face-to-face
Working from home is now on record as offering incredible value to employees—with everything from spending more time with loved ones to saving money on commuting bills. These are just some of the reasons that show how remote working has improved well-being and quality of life. That said, there remains huge value in face-to-face networking, and this is where the hybrid model gives women’s networks and other employee resource groups the opportunity to demonstrate their value further and to build engagement at the same time.
‘We run a monthly online book club for our entire workforce, but once every quarter we do it in-person at one of our UK-based locations on rotation,’ says Brogan O’Neill, Internal Comms Executive, Bupa International. ‘The idea is that by offering people based there or nearby to come together, we encourage the networking piece around it. It also becomes another reason for them to come into the office.
‘It’s great that post-Covid we can connect and reach way more people online, but I think the next evolution will be to try to blend the two and give people face-to-face opportunities again, which I do think offers something different. Having that option to connect with people, have a cup of tea and enjoy those informal chats after or before the session is really valuable for community building.’
- Consider how you can signpost the networking opportunities of your face-to-face events as a way to draw in the crowds.
- It doesn’t always have to be either/or where in-real-life/online events are concerned. Experiment with hybrid activities, where employees can join in-person or online.
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.