How to build a successful Women’s Network

  • Posted on December 6, 2021
  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes

Mei Tym Pang in conversation with Magdalene Amegashitsi about her journey to set up the Women’s Employee Network in the U.K. at Avanade.

So Magda, what inspired you set up a Women's Network?

For me it all started in 2019 when I had been with Avanade for about two years before lockdown. I noticed when I was in the office and with our clients, I would hardly find a woman in a typical project. It was a pleasure each time I met a woman in the office – I had a sense of wanting to connect with other women.

It became a situation where I start appreciating women around more. I'll echo a study recently that I read which was published by the National Academy of Sciences which revealed that women were more likely to attain high ranking leadership positions if they had a solid support group of other women.

I began to wonder how do we connect more people? How do we build that network? Both across women and across leadership. That was really what triggered my interest in wanting to know what was available within Avanade. I found out we had a global Women's Employee Network group. However, within the U.K., it didn’t really exist. I connected with our European Inclusion and Diversity Lead and at the time they were thinking they would need a lead within each region. I applied for it and was given the role in the U.K.!

How did you go about building those foundations for the U.K.?

Having the European I&D Lead supporting me as well as our U.K. HR team was invaluable because there was a lot of guidance. If there's anything you want to start like this, you really need to understand the company or the organisation's strategy, purpose and principles.

So aligning with the wider business strategy as well as the inclusion and diversity strategy helps to secure leadership engagement and support; it gives the group a stronger sense of purpose. The other interesting part of the journey was to gather a passionate group of volunteers and a structure that would enable them to contribute.

One thing that is quite important is making sure that you have sponsorship from executive leadership, because that facilitates the journey of the network by removing potential obstacles.

Now that the network is more established, how do you manage it on a day-to-day basis?

It's always about making sure that you understand the passion that people are coming in with. When I have anyone expressing interest in being part of the group, I have a virtual coffee chat with them. I understand what I'm looking to do, what the Women's Employee Network is about, and what I've got in mind in terms of the long-term strategy. I find some people come in with ideas from previous engagements from other companies which is even more refreshing. It means they understand what it is about and are ready to give up some time because it's not your day job. I make sure that everyone can identify what they want, so you make sure they are given tasks that are interesting to them.

It also helps to identify different themes for each workstream; you want to empower everyone to feel they can add value and make an impact, right? I have an amazing co-chair that supports me as much as I support her. Likewise for all the workstreams, we aim to have a lead and ideally a committee. This way has been a very good way to work and let people take accountability.

Looking further ahead, how do you look to evolve and sustain the momentum that the network currently has?

At the start of the financial year, I was thinking similarly. What are we doing? Where do I see us in the next couple of years? It's interesting because during our design led thinking session, everyone thought it could be male allyship. Some people think because once a network group has “woman” in its name, it's only for women. Men need to be part of that gender equality conversation. Invites and their participation needs to be strategic and deliberately targeting. That way we are also amplifying our impact because you can't have a conversation about women in a male dominated sector where it's only women talking; you're preaching to the converted!

What advice would you have for individuals currently working at firms similar to Avanade that don't have a network in place, who might be curious about starting their own network?

I think it starts with being curious, right? Ask questions, find out what the business strategy is. Is there any interest in having a group like that? Looking back, I could ask is there a group here I can be a part of and that represents me? If there isn't, you want to understand for yourself what you are looking to build and what’s the scope. Don’t be hesitant in reaching out for help; a company similar to Avanade will likely have an Inclusion and Diversity team and they will be more than happy to support.

OK, this final question is about your favourite event the Women’s Network has organised?

I think we've held a lot of webinars which have been great, but as we progressed, we realized that you want to have more of those impactful sessions. Something that leaves a legacy, right?

The Coding for Kids one for me is something that I am very passionate about because we are leaving a lasting impact. We decided that we would be looking out to engage more with the wider business on action-oriented initiatives, so Coding for Kids is expected to be something that will be recurring during half term or the longer school breaks. This was our very first event and the feedback has been great.

We also have a speed networking session coming up as well for December and this is the first time we are doing this. We're calling it speed networking because it gives you the chance to connect with people within Avanade that you could potentially have as a mentor or coach.

We want people to meet people they might not normally bump into, so that’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to it!

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