Employee affinity groups can be excellent resources for empowering women in the workplace; here’s how you can utilise them effectively.

Empowering women in the workplace is something many companies are aiming for, but achieving this is not easy. While there is no single solution to this issue, employee affinity groups can be an excellent way to provide the women in your organisation with the opportunities, resources and support they need to succeed.

Making the most of employee affinity groups

While employee affinity groups can be a great resource for your female employees, it is not enough just to set them up and leave them be. If you have control over them, it is important you leverage them effectively; something only 31 percent of business leaders and just 18 percent of employees think is currently the case. [1]

One simple action most businesses can take, no matter the size, is to provide affinity groups with a role in company decision-making. Areas such as diversity and inclusion, recruitment, and HR can all benefit from input from these affinity groups, and this will give group members an opportunity to shape the business’ direction in a more positive direction.

At higher levels, affinity groups should be allocated funding and some autonomy so they can take the actions they deem necessary to improve empowerment in the organisation. In larger companies, it might be advantageous to assign affinity groups an executive sponsor to help advocate for them with the board of directors and ensure they are not getting left behind. If you can achieve this, your affinity groups can have a huge impact on empowering women within your business.

Let female employees impact change

The profits and share performance of companies in which women are well-represented at the top level is around 50 percent higher than average. [2] However, this is not the case with many businesses. Giving women more authority can be a virtuous cycle, with senior-level women being much more likely to practice allyship at work than their male counterparts, [3] but the challenge is starting that cycle off.

Employee affinity groups can be an excellent way to achieve this. If utilised properly, they can provide female employees with an opportunity to contribute to company decision-making that can push a business towards a more diverse and profitable future. With 70 percent of women in employee affinity groups saying they have a hand in impacting change [4], it’s clear this can be an effective tactic.

Start them off on the right footing

One of the hardest parts of any job is the beginning, and this is especially true if you are part of a marginalised group. It’s not just about learning the basics of the job; a large aspect of this introductory period is learning about the company culture and working out how to fit into it. [5] A Monster study found that more than half of US workers have had two or more jobs in which they did not feel they were a good fit for the company culture. 

When a company is largely made up of men, fitting in with the culture and learning the ropes is made much harder for women who also have to deal with the obstacles of sexism and unconscious bias. However, employee affinity groups can be an excellent way to counter this.

Research from Dr Shelton Goode has found that employee affinity groups were able to help new employees with the onboarding process in 90 percent of companies. [6] This is crucial given how important the first 60-90 days are to a new hire. It provides women with a place to go with any concerns and talk to people with similar experiences, which in turn enables them to better find their place within the company.
The benefits of employee affinity groups are clear, affecting everything from progression to a feeling of fitting in for your female employees. Utilising them properly can be a major step towards creating a more equitable and efficient workplace. You can find out more about developing female talent and making scitech more inclusive in our new paper, Women in Life Sciences: Cultivating Diversity, which you can download here.

[1] Global Diversity & Inclusion Survey, PwC, 2020

[2] Diversity wins: How inclusion matters, McKinsey, May 2020

[3]  Women in the Workplace 2020, McKinsey, September 2020

[4] Employee Resource Groups For Women, FairyGodBoss, September 2017

[5] How to assess company culture to find the best fit, Monster, March 2016

[6] Are Employee Resource Groups Good for Business?, SHRM, August 2016

Nick Ross

Author Nick Ross

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