Networks at work should transform to make them more effective, according to new large-scale global research from Women Ahead.
The ground-breaking research examines the value of minority group networks and assesses the effect that the different ways men and women communicate has on traditionally run ‘networking’ sessions. The scope of the research examined the changing language around traditional women’s networks to include men and women in the drive to reach reach gender parity.
Women Ahead's 'Networks That Work' research programme, which interviewed network heads representing women’s, disability, BAME, LGBT and other networks in 31 global companies, revealed that by making a few changes the networks could work better for their members and organisations.
CEO of Women Ahead, Liz Dimmock, will suggest new ways of working at the launch of the research findings at PwC in London today, attended by more than 180 heads of diversity and talent at organisations including Microsoft, LinkedIn, Google, UBS, Shell and Amazon. She will be joined by speakers including Birgit Neu, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at HSBC, Sarah Churchman, Human Capital Director - Talent, Inclusion & Wellbeing – PwC, Jonni Learoyd, HR Project Leader, Channel 4, and Nishma Robb Head of Ads Marketing at Google.
By applying neuroscience to these large- scale qualitative research findings, the team at Women Ahead has designed International Standards for Effective Networks that can be applied at any stage of a network’s development to maximise its impact on diversity and inclusion, and a range of practical tools to use.
DO WE NEED WOMEN’S NETWORKS?
Women Ahead’s Head of Research Jane Booth said: “There is a view from some women and men that women’s networks are an unfair intervention that simply serves to highlight the gender gap – however, men are more often than not already surrounded by other men within an all-male, or virtually all-male, group. Women’s networks are necessary to provide a space for women, who are in a minority at work, to have a voice. However, as networks grow and mature, there is recognition of the increasing need for these issues to become more mainstream and for gender parity not just to be seen as a ‘women’s issue’”.
The research revealed a move towards the use of the word ‘balance’ being used in gender network titles to reflect the modern reality that gender parity needs the support of men as well as women.
In fact, the research found that some people view being part of a women’s network as a barrier to success, by pigeonholing themselves or making themselves stand out. This is despite the fact that women’s networks are the most prevalent form. However, the research also revealed that although many networks are run ‘off the side of the desk’ and not officially recognised as valuable, being part of a network is a positive personal and professional move.
NETWORKING EVENTS TO EVOLVE
The Women Ahead research examined the different ways men and women communicate, and the traditional setup of networking events. Academic research shows that men tend to have much larger, more superficial networks, whereas women form smaller, deeper and more personal connections. The traditional golf day, the boardroom lay-out, the business card swap sessions, the football ‘chat’ around the meeting room - all designed by men, for men for them to do business in the ways in which they feel comfortable.
Many of the events delivered through minority group networks in the research adopted the traditional formula for large-scale networking events with a keynote speaker, Q&A session and ‘networking’ time – despite the knowledge that women generally prefer to communicate in smaller, more reciprocal groups.
Jane Booth said: “Our research reveals that women have a strong unease and dislike for ‘networking’ and are frequently fearful at the thought of walking into a room of people who they don’t know, and feeling there is an expectation to ‘go forth and connect’. So while there is clearly a recognition that women and other minority groups need something different from the current norm; the opportunities provided are still often based on the traditional networking format.”
Women Ahead’s International Standards for Effective Networks suggests that networks should move from being a place where people can ‘network’ to where they can connect on a deeper level with fewer people, and also learn the skills of networking in a safe space.
Liz Dimmock said: “Among those interviewed, networking was cited as the most feared developmental challenge for an aspiring leader and yet networks were not addressing this learning issue. We suggest that the goals of networking should move more towards making three quality connections that you will follow up after an event, rather than many that you will not. This way of working is likely to suit women – and many men – better.”
LITTLE FUNDING AND SUPPORT
The research found that although networks are seen by heads of diversity and inclusion as a useful tool to reaching their goals, there is little formal financial or human investment into the setup or delivery of networks. The Women Ahead International Standards for Effective Networks suggests that robust evaluation of networks would allow for better business cases to be made and greater support given.
SCOPE OF RESEARCH
The research examined 31 global organisations employing more than 1,770,000 (1.77 million) people worldwide in more than 150 countries and across 14 sectors. There are more than 180 networks in operation within these 30 companies. Three cross-sector networks with a combined global membership of over 16,000 were included. Interviews were undertaken with Global Heads of D&I, Heads of HR, voluntary network chairs/co-chairs, network members, network committee members, and network leads.
PwC and HSBC, which benefit from significant internal networks, collaborated with Women Ahead to support this research.
Notes to Editors
1. Women Ahead is a social enterprise that supports the development of women in sport and business. Women Ahead designs and manages mentoring schemes, workshops and learning materials, offers leading female speakers for events, and carries out research and consultancy. www.women-ahead.org
2. Moving Ahead is our brother organisation, specialising in advising and helping retiring male and female athletes transition into work and providing motivational male and female speakers to help men and women progress in business and sport.
3. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msKKOO3nWbE for a two minute video about Women Ahead.
4. Networks That Work can be found here: http://www.women-ahead.org/networks-research
5. At PwC, our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. We’re a network of firms in 157 countries with more than 223,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, advisory and tax services. Find out more and tell us what matters to you by visiting us at www.pwc.com. PwC refers to the PwC network and/or one or more of its member firms, each of which is a separate legal entity. Please see www.pwc.com/structure for further details.
Press enquiries to:-
1. Women Ahead: Timma Marett at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01189 406828 / 07901 682219.