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Change Is Just an ERG Away for Women in Tech

November 18, 2014Two years ago, my colleague Divija Alluri and I decided to take our Women’s Committee employee resource group (ERG) to the next level at our business and technology consulting firm, West Monroe Partners, which has rapidly evolved in just a few short years. We saw that the Women’s Committee could fill the important role of acclimating female hires to the firm, while also serving to forge connections among women who were already working here. We knew that even though we work in male-dominated fields, being women in technology and consulting should not be a challenge to overcome, but an opportunity to take advantage of. And though our committee had existed for many years, it was ready for a redesign. The challenges we faced were not unique. For a variety of reasons, our events were few and far between, and we lacked the structure and support to be truly impactful.

Building and growing an ERG isn’t easy, especially on top of your “real job” responsibilities or in a change-resistant environment.  Here are a few tips to get you on the right track:

  1. Gain (male and female) leadership support. When our primary sponsor moved on from West Monroe two years ago, we used it as an opportunity to rebuild leadership support on our Steering Committee. We strategically sought out people at different levels, from different departments, and of different genders. We even got our former CEO, Dean Fischer, to join! With these diverse perspectives, we hoped to increase awareness of and strengthen support for our group. The Steering Committee today provides us with guidance on a quarterly basis. Our time with them is spent primarily sharing knowledge about how we can support West Monroe’s broader strategy and provide unique opportunities for women that the larger firm has not considered. Staff-wide emails from our leadership team publicizing our events don’t hurt, either!

  1. Find out what your ERG wants (and needs). We found that a mix of social, professional development, and community engagement events works best for the women of our firm. Throughout the year we host fun social events like paint-and-wine night and paddle-boarding classes. However, we also plan professional development events like leadership panels and “Lunch & Learns” on topics such as parental leave at WMP and career equity. We also communicate the heck out of what we are doing—we have an internal SharePoint site and Wiki page, as well as Quarterly Newsletters, and send out introduction emails for new women hires.

  1. It takes a village, right? Ask for help! Given the demands of everyday client work, Divija and I knew we could not do this alone. We assembled a tactical team across four of our largest offices. Without them, the Women’s Committee would not be as successful as we are today. They provide office-specific perspectives and tailor organization-wide events to their particular workplaces. This team also serves as a pipeline for the future leaders of the Women’s Committee and helps us identify candidates for membership.

  1. Hold yourself and your team accountable! In order to make sure we accomplished everything we’d committed to, we decided to host regular monthly meetings. We scheduled them an entire year out and protected that time with our team. Our agenda is nearly identical each month: review action steps from last month, discuss any open items or roadblocks, and evaluate our progress towards the calendar we created during our very first month as a team.

  1. Stay positive. Focus on what can be done and what has already changed. There are many potential challenges to building a successful ERG. You may lack leadership support or an organization-wide strategy, or have little to no budget. You may plan awesome events, only to have so-so turnout. You may even get snarky comments from uninformed colleagues like, “Why isn’t there a men’s committee?” and “What exactly is your girls’ club?” What’s important is that your ERG, no matter how large or small, how formal or informal, is a step in the right direction toward changing the landscape for women—not only at your organization, but throughout the country and the world.

Ready for real change? Take our pledge and #DisruptTheDefault today!

If you are interested in learning more about employee resource groups, consider attending Catalyst’s Employee Resource Leadership Initiative (ERLI) conference on Monday, May 4 and Tuesday, May 5, 2015.

 

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.