With the rise of online and other more informal opportunities, networks have evolved rapidly in the last decade into a powerful tool. Networks can provide many benefits including job opportunities, access to valuable insight and advice, business referrals, raising your profile, increased confidence, and the satisfaction of helping others.
Connections made through networking can only bring these benefits if you treat then like any other relationship. To be truly successful, there needs to be a bit of give and take.
- Networks allow employees to come together and identify the ways in which gender (and other differences) affects their experience within the agency. These insights are critical in establishing what's really happening on the floor, and building the understanding and empathy required to drive cultural change.
- Social interaction helps women to gain access to opportunities, insights and codes of behaviour. Creating a platform for dialogue allows women to build their 'cultural capital' - skills, linguistics, competencies and cultural codes that may be valued by certain groups in agencies.
- Networks provide a vehicle for drawing out interconnections and root causes for things like behaviours or policies that may be instrumental in stopping women from reaching full potential.
- Formal networks provide legitimacy often needed to reinforce the case for change. They are a powerful tool and a communication channel to amplify priorities and broadcast positive messages.
Different types of networks
A deliberate initiative designed to enhance professional development opportunites or solve particular problems facing staff as a result of their gender.
A group of employees linked by shared interests or common backgrounds. Having access to these informal networks can be highly advantageous in career advancement and securing opportunities.
Practice or Interest groups set up to share successes, best practice and latest trends across all aspects of gender inclusion.
Not just for women
There are differing views on just who should be invited to join a women's work, and indeed, should they even be called women's networks. Here are a few points to consider.
- The significant challenge ahead will require all hands on deck. Men stepping up alongside women can only help to improve the speed and success of achieving gender equality at work.
- If men are part of the problem, doesn't it make sense that they are part of the solution too?
- Fathers and men required to care for loved ones also face pressures and stereotypes. They may benefit from setting up men's groups where dads can connect with one another for example.
- Women can often feel uncomfortable talking openly in front of men about gender inequality. Women only networks can provide a safe place for women to share their stories.
- When we make gender equality a family issue and an agency issue, we are reframing the problem in a way that makes strategic sense. The focus needs to shift from what women ought to do, to what agencies ought to do.
Co-chair Prime Minister and Cabinet Women's Network
Employee networks are a powerful lever for cultural change. Our PM&C Women's Network provides a forum to share perspectives and create practical opportunities that advance gender equality.