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My fellow blogette Diane Brady and I wrote an article this week about corporate women’s networks. For a while, Diane had been mulling a story about the fact that so many women’s networks inside companies are little more than window dressing. All too often, they’re nice-to-have lunch-and-learn events that cost companies little and allow them to show off how friendly they are to women’s careers. In reality, they aren’t typically seen as effective, even by executive women. Claudia Peus, a visiting scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, interviewed more than 900 female executives about critical factors in their success. They ranked programs for the promotion of women last, Diane wrote in the introduction of our story. “The spontaneous reaction was, ‘They don’t work.’”
But then we met Julie Gilbert. A dynamo who came through our offices a few months ago, Gilbert started up a new women’s network at consumer electronics retailer Best Buy that actually works on real business issues, coming up with new product ideas for female customers and better ways to retain and recruit female employees. That too was a dire business need—in some areas of the company, costly turnover of women associates was double that of men, which like most retailers, was already a high number. More than 40 companies, Gilbert says, have asked her for advice on designing or improving their women’s networks.
We decided to write instead about three women’s networks that have had actual impact—Best Buy’s, GE’s and Deloitte’s. The women’s initiative at Deloitte, which has been around for 14 years, has gotten lots of attention over the years, but continues to innovate with new ideas such as research on how executive women make decisions and a new concept called “mass career customization.” The idea is being piloted at Deloitte and will give every employee a framework for dialing up and down their hours, travel demands, and responsibilities as their personal needs change over the course of their careers. Cathy Benko, who runs the women’s initiative at Deloitte, is co-authoring a book on the topic, but she also runs an interesting blog on Deloitte’s Web site. If you’ve got ideas about how to make corporate women’s networks more effective, we’d be interested, and I’m sure she would, too.
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