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Women in Leadership: A Blueprint for Building a Successful Employee Community

Women in Leadership: A Blueprint for Building a Successful Employee Community

By Judith Aquino

It’s not difficult to understand why gender equality and diversity are smart business practices. It has been well documented that inclusive companies attract, engage, and retain top talent. The next generation of workers knows this: 77 percent of Generation Z job seekers said that a company's level of diversity affects their decision to work there.

But making diversity and gender equality part of a business’s DNA is a continual process. Just ask Laura Ward, vice president of enterprise transformation at TTEC. Ward founded Women In Leadership (WIL), an employee resource group that’s dedicated to helping women thrive in their careers through social and educational programs, mentorship, and networking opportunities. Ward shared lessons and insights from her experience transforming a grassroots idea into an award-winning, company-wide initiative.

What inspired you to form the Women In Leadership group?
One week when I was at headquarters, I had eight people ask me separately if I could be a mentor to them or someone on their team. And that told me that we had an unmet need. So, I organized a monthly mentoring session with a small group of women. A year later, that initial group of eight grew to 15 people and we had the beginnings of the core team for Women In Leadership. The first product we produced was the monthly programs for professional learning and education.

At the same time, Colleen Ritchie [SVP of operations support at TTEC] was doing something similar for women in our contact centers where they were having quarterly meetings. In 2018, she and I decided to bring our programs together and that was how the Women In Leadership group that we have today came to be. We're really proud of our progress so far and we've got big plans for 2020.

What initiatives are you planning for 2020?
We will continue to build on existing initiatives such as our social media campaigns, monthly learning and networking programs, diversity training, and certification. New activities include the launch of our new and improved intranet site, enhanced onboarding experience, and increased focus on geographical outreach through our ‘Tribe’ program to connect women to WIL globally. We’re also building a localized WIL platform for face-to-face connections, networking, celebrations, and community events. Also new in 2020, we will launch our recognition program and begin integrating men into WIL as Champions.

And finally, we’re building our external brand eminence by applying for awards, participating in external speaking engagements, and partnering with other WIL groups. So, we have a lot happening from small things to really ambitious initiatives.

Where do you get your ideas for WIL program topics?
In the beginning, the core team identified the discussion topics but by the end of our first year, we started an annual survey to our community to ensure we focused on those topics most relevant to them. We support monthly programs in two formats: learning and storytelling. The learning programs focus on skills/behaviors while in the storytelling sessions, leaders share their personal journey that put them in their current position with TTEC. All of our programs are broadcast globally, recorded, and available on our intranet site for viewing or reviewing by any TTEC employee. 

What impact has WIL had on TTEC and its employees?
Our first goal was simply to create awareness of gender diversity across the company. Since then, we’ve implemented several initiatives and reported key gender diversity statistics across the enterprise. For example, we have great female representation across the company as a whole at 55 percent, which is fantastic!

We are working to get TTEC and our strong female leaders recognized externally. In 2019, TTEC was named a Best Company for Diversity by Comparably, a workplace culture and compensation site. In Q1 of 2020, two of our female leaders were named finalists for Stevie Awards in Sales and Customer Service, which will be announced on February 28, 2020.

What advice do you have for other organizations on how to create their own employee resource groups?
WIL began as a grassroot effort with a handful of passionate people and zero budget. When starting a grassroots initiative, it is critical to start small and slow—do not overcommit! Trying to do too much at once will either burn your team out or lead to public failure; neither of which is conducive to success. Define the ‘true North’ of your initiative and then build your strategic and operational plans around it.

When people ask how can they get involved on the core team, be very clear on what the requirements and expectations are. It’s easy to get excited about contributing, but people get distracted and busy. Be prepared to have tough conversations with those who aren’t delivering what’s needed. And, always review your mission. Are the targets that you’re pursuing aligned with your mission? You don’t want to change your mission each year, but be open to revising it as time goes on.

There’s only so much time in the day, so you have to be smart about how you spend your time and your energy. Be practical and rinse and repeat what you can. That’s how an idea keeps growing.

Your Employee Resource Group Checklist
1. Define your mission
2. Start small and slow
3. Communicate the requirements and expectations to contributors
4. Don’t reinvent the wheel—reuse what you can
5. Check in and review your mission regularly

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