Businesses may view women’s internal networks initially as a socially responsible initiative, but a new report released Tuesday by the Financial Women’s Association reveals another surprising result: they boost profits.
“The surprising finding is that [women’s internal networks] can have a positive impact on the bottom line,” said FWA executive director Jennifer Openshaw in a statement. “Businesses may view them initially as a socially responsible initiative when, in fact, successful ones are idea-generators and can be profit-producing for business areas.”
Women’s internal networks (WINs) are a type of employee resource group designed to bring employees together and give them a voice within a corporation.
As the report states, “these organizations are becoming more common and more popular as corporate America seeks to address workforce issues from increasing the ranks of women and employee engagement to addressing attrition or reputational concerns.”
One just has to take a look around to see how common women’s networks have become in the industry. The Raymond James Network for Women Advisors has been around since 1994, starting as the brainchild of a small group of female financial advisors and growing into a force of more than 800 women.
Wells Fargo Advisors also has a Women’s Initiative with resources and opportunities available to female advisors, team members and clients. And just this past February, AIG Advisor Group announced the launch of its newly branded “Women FORWARD” initiative.
The FWA report, which is based on surveys of 21 leaders at major financial companies and, separately, a broad range of 583 female employees, finds that nearly 67% of the employees surveyed reported that their firm had a WIN – and, of those, nearly 68% have joined their company’s WIN. The report also found that 77% of respondents at firms without a WIN said they would join if their organizations had one.
Maureen Adolf, president of the FWA, said in a statement, “Women’s networks have exploded over the last 10 years, but the question is: how can companies use them effectively to attract, retain and advance women?”
WINs are no longer just for networking or a means to give back or support diversity, as the report shows.
While only 42% of corporate leaders cited business objectives in in the administered survey as a key reason firms operate a WIN, the corporate roundtable discussion aspect of the FWA’s study revealed that business, such as revenue or new clients, was certainly a critical purpose of the WIN.
The report states that “WINs can have a real impact on a company’s bottom line, so much so that they may even cause a shift in their purpose from just employee engagement to business objectives. Leaders can communicate these WIN initiatives in sales efforts as a core part of the company’s values and strategy.”
Successful women’s networks link their impact to real business – by engaging female clients, helping close business deals and gaining the attention of senior leaders.
As more and more women become decision makers both in the home and on the job front, there is a critical opportunity to engage women as clients. This is becoming increasingly important considering that “women currently control $12 trillion in global consumer spending and will control two-thirds of wealth in the United States by 2020,” according to the report.
“Across our [employee resource groups], we have a focus on employee engagement and advancement, but also engaging our clients around diversity,” one corporate leader told FWA.
WINs can also make a difference in “getting over the hump” with a business deal, the report finds.
One respondent told FWA, “We were having trouble completing the documentation of a deal. It wasn’t until we started talking to women at an event that we ultimately got over the hump and closed the deal. Now business leaders are recognizing the value of [employee resource groups].”
A WIN’s positive impact on business can gain the attention of senior leaders, especially men who still hold most leadership positions. The report notes that women make up only 14.6% of executive officers, 8.1% of top earners and 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Within financial services globally, only 19% of women are in senior positions. In the financial services industry in the United States, only 25% of middle-management jobs are held by women.
The report states: “When [a WIN] can help senior leaders — who happen to primarily be men — with their business objectives, like client engagement and business performance, we’re finding this is what really gets their attention. It’s moved from ‘this is the right thing to do for employee engagement’ to ‘this is going to help our businesses.’”
The FWA research, conducted in March, had two parts: corporations and female employees.
The FWA surveyed 21 leaders among its corporate partners followed by a roundtable discussion with human resource, diversity and business leaders to share their best practices of WINs. The FWA then surveyed 583 women in the financial industry to understand their opinions about WINs.
---Related on ThinkAdvisor: