In 2018, ISG Partner Lois Coatney launched the ISG Women in Digital program, now run by Kimberly Tobias. Her vision was to create a group dedicated to connecting, educating, empowering and recognizing women as they navigate the changing world of business and the IT industry – and as they make the most of their futures.
Women-specific groups are increasingly popular in companies of all sizes. There are several advantages to carving out an affinity group focused on women in technology, but there are also challenges in starting up a group, maintaining relevance and keeping up momentum. This article summarizes a recent podcast with Lois, Kimberly, ISG’s Jeanne Cuff and Missy Lawrence-Johnston joined by Lisa Graver, who recently launched LTI’s global Women in Tech program.
Why start a women-specific group?
American researcher Brené Brown talks about the importance of belonging versus just fitting in. In many companies, especially those with a technology focus, women are outnumbered by men and can feel more isolated, especially as a new hire. A women-specific group can help women move from feeling isolated to related. When you connect with other women you often find similarities in each other’s experience, gaining positive reinforcement and stronger connections.
A women-specific group can also foster relationships with others of a different background or demographic, leading to a broader perspective, which in turn helps us create an environment that’s more inclusive.
Statistically, women in tech are less likely to be in leadership positions because they often take a career break due to family responsibilities. When they return to work, they are often faced with a “catching up” gap, and a women-specific group can help bridge that gap by giving women more visibility and support within the organization.
Are you creating another division with a women-only group?
The panel agreed that a women-specific group needs to consciously strive to be inclusive.
The LTI Women in Tech program charter is to “support, mentor and encourage women to achieve greater things in the technology community,” but LTI recognizes that you can’t do that with just women – it requires the entire ecosystem to make that happen. The challenge is to engage the entire company to help make the group successful in supporting women.
The same affinity group model can be used to create a veteran’s network resource group or an employees of color group. While it is important to have an internal focus and goals, the group also should strive to gain input from others.
What should I consider when starting a women-specific group?
Podcast guest Lisa Graver and the ISG podcast team developed a set of recommendations to help companies launch a successful women-specific group:
- Gain sponsorship. The right executive sponsor can help pave the way for a new group to gain acceptance. Ideally, the sponsor becomes a long-term advocate who will help facilitate growth of the program.
- Look for alignment with corporate goals and objectives. It will be easier to gain allies and advocates in the company when the objectives of your program are clear and support the overall corporate goals.
- Be inclusive and understand your corporate culture. It is important to understand your corporate culture. For instance, Lisa works for an Indian heritage company with a large percentage of Indian employees, so her program must take that culture into consideration. Culture matters when trying to build a program.
- Start small. Start with a diverse core team and a small number of programs. ISG’s Women in Digital group started with the invitation to have a women-only lunch at an ISG event. From there, the group started hosting dinners in different cities to bring women together. As the program gained momentum, it developed into a more robust network of support.
- Look for pockets of goodness that already exist. Chances are, especially with a larger company, there may be smaller initiatives already underway that align to your objectives. Finding these and including these under the “umbrella” of the women-specific program may help bring awareness to your program.
- Connect with your company’s marketing organization. The marketing organization can provide visibility into other initiatives within your company (those “pockets of goodness” mentioned above) and can also help communicate your program’s goals and objectives both internally and to the wider community.
- Acknowledge what’s happening on a regular basis – doesn’t have to be a big event. Small initiatives can make a big difference. ISG’s Women in Digital program includes a component that simply facilitates a conversation between a female ISG employee and other ISG leaders. Those conversations can lead to new opportunities within ISG and a broader network overall.
- Partner with talent management. ISG’s Women in Digital program engaged with the talent management team to introduce a more diverse interview process and widen the talent search by encouraging others in their network to apply for new ISG jobs. Additionally, new female hires are introduced to a Women in Digital core team member who provides some background on the program and a personal invitation to connect going forward.
- Consider how your women-specific program will engage the next generation of women in tech. Develop some goals that focus on new interns or recent graduates and provide the platform for an exchange of ideas. Lisa Graver recently was encouraged to use Instagram Live while meeting with college seniors, which created the opportunity for them to mentor her in the use of that technology. There are several organizations (e.g., Girls Who Code) that may be interested in partnering with your new program.
How can my new women-specific group best support women in my company?
Work from home, hybrid work environments and other flexible arrangements create a real pivot point for women in the workplace. Women-specific programs encourage more creativity in technology and cultural diversity. Now is the time to make a difference. A women-specific program can be empowering. It is exciting to think of the possibilities!
Listen to the entire ISG Digital Dish episode #19 here.