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Women give company networks lukewarm reviews, study finds

Thursday, March 29, 2012  
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Professional women do not see women’s networks or employee resource groups as a magic bullet for solving gender inequality in the workplace, but the more involved women are with the networks, the greater they value them, according to a study by the Center for Gender in Organizations at the Simmons School of Management.

In a survey of women at the 2011 Simmons College Leadership Conference, middle to senior-level women said they believe the efficacy of a women's network at work is only as strong as a company's investment in the group and the depth of its connection with the overall organizational strategy. Specifically, the study found that women believe these networks were of particular value when they provided skill-building opportunities, such as training, mentoring and coaching, and visibility, including exposure to senior management.

"When time, resources and efforts are devoted to creating a women's network, supported by top management -- one that that delivers well-organized and specific programming -- it has an impact,” said Patricia Deyton, CGO faculty director and co-author of the study. "The study confirms that it’s simply beyond the scope of women’s networks alone to address the subtle cultural barriers that often impede women's ability to ascend to leadership positions.”

The study, which surveyed 268 businesswomen with extensive work experience, found that women believe their networks would be more effective with increased involvement by senior management, both male and female; more concrete planned programming; and a better overall organization and communications.

Respondents reported that the least valuable outcome provided by women's networks were social events and assistance with family issues. Further, the study found that African-American women were more likely to be actively involved and were more likely to believe the network was effective at meeting goals and promoting women.

More than 60 percent of the women surveyed indicated their organization had a women’s network. Of these, just over half (55 percent) are actively or occasionally involved in their network’s activities. Sixteen percent of women’s ERG members were only rarely involved in their activities.

Nearly 30 percent of the respondents said they are not members of their companies’ women’s network. When asked why, 55 percent cited a lack of time. Other reasons given for not joining a network included not sharing the goals of the network, not seeing value in the network and not being eligible.

Overall, members of women’s networks gave them slightly higher marks for meeting the network’s goals than for promoting women. Seven in 10 (71 percent) of network members said they were "somewhat effective” in meeting the group’s goals; two in 10 (21 percent) said they were "very effective” in meeting goals. Eight percent judged them to be "not at all effective” in meeting goals.

Nearly 70 percent of network members said they were "somewhat effective” in promoting women. Sixteen percent judged them "very effective.” A similar amount, 15 percent, said they were not effective at all in promoting women.

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