By Candace Bazemore, Technology Training Chair and Marketing Liaison for the Junior League of Atlanta
Women in the workplace are finding more opportunities for professional development, relationship building and volunteerism through networking groups at their companies called employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups. Catalyst describes ERGs or Affinity Groups as “voluntary, employee-led groups that serve as a resource for members and organizations.” Although not every company has affinity groups in place, those that do tend to have at least one women’s affinity group. These groups help their female employees focus on personal and professional development with other women in their organization are an essential part of the workplace culture and strategy for providing work life balance for employees. These affinity groups allow women across departments to interact with other women that have similar career goals and interests, as well as, give them the ability to pool their talents and recourse to give back to the community.
Here are three ways women are winning at work life balance by developing, connecting and giving back in the workplace through affinity groups.
1 – Participate in Education Series
Educations series as regular professional development lectures, workshops or panel discussions that focus on relevant topics for the group members. I previously worked a large technology firm that had a women’s affinity group with more than 100 members at the Atlanta Campus. The group had women from all career levels and departments and included first year employees all the way up to our C-suite women executives. We had a monthly education series which featured guest speakers with seasoned careers; the speakers would share insights into challenges and best practices from their personal career journey. And it offered a valuable glimpse into how to we could build our own pathways to success.
2 – Take Advantage of Networking Opportunities
The Education series also included a networking social at the beginning of each session. This was an unexpected bonus because it was an easy way to meet women from other teams and departments. Since most people can end up working exclusively in their departments, these opportunities to form cross-departmental collaboration can be very valuable. The women that attended the group had the shared experience of the lecture to use as future conversation starters and which often lead to follow up lunch meetings that help to deepen those bonds. Through these networking events the members become connected resources for each other across the organization. The Harvard Business Review cited these affinity groups or ERGs as an important evolutionary tool in women’s career paths, stating that “…ERGs might morph into BRGs, business resource groups that enlist leaders in solving issues critical to the business. That alliance allows for sponsorship to arise more organically, as leaders get to know and trust group members by working side by side toward a common goal.”
3 – Join a Volunteer Project
Working towards a common goal also applies to work done in the community. Studies have long shown that women volunteer at higher rates than men and in the workplace that is also the case. A recent Priceonomics survey found “…a large gender gap in terms of who volunteers. 30.1% of women who work full-time also find the time to volunteer in comparison to just 23.8% of men.” And women’s affinity groups offer a great way for women to contribute to that trend by serving as an outlet for women to donate their time, talent and treasure. Many women’s affinity groups plan monthly, quarterly and annually volunteer projects like organizing book and clothing drives, packing meals at local food banks, and even building a company sponsored home for Habitat for Humanity. These volunteer projects give affinity group members personal fulfillment and work life balance through these coordinated volunteer opportunities.
Don’t have a Women’s Affinity Group at Your Company?
If your organization does not have a woman’s affinity groups, there are a few things you can do to start connecting with other women in the workplace and industry. To start, you can reach out to your Human Resources department and find out how you can start an affinity group at our company. If that seems too big of an ask or not appropriate for your company’s size, consider joining a women’s focused industry membership organizations like Women in Technology or the American Business Women’s Association. Additionally, keep in mind that there are large non-profit organizations that have specialized volunteering opportunities just for women. These alternative professional volunteer groups often partner with other non-profits for community service events, which helps to amplify their impact. For instance, the United Way of Greater Atlanta (UWGA) Women of Cole is a group that “connects donors with other influential women in an effort to drive sustainable change throughout Greater Atlanta.” The Women of Cole recently partnered with the Junior League of Atlanta (JLA) for a special MLK Day service project for the United Way’s Pack the Purse initiate. According to JLA VP of Training and member of the UWGA’s Women of Cole Council, Stacey Chavis, “JLA members and Women of Cole volunteers packed over 160 purses with toiletries and other essential items to help local Metro Atlanta Area women that are in need.”
Being able to develop, connect, and give back are just a few of the ways women are using affinity groups to win by finding work life balance. And the best part is that many of the offerings are open to every employee. It simply begins with signing up and participating in the events and activities that are right there at your company.
Catalyst. Glossary. Catalyst Inc. 2016. http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/topics/ergs-employee-resource-groups
Kopf, Dan. Why Don’t Men Volunteer as Much as Women? Priceonomics, Dec 17, 2015. https://priceonomics.com/the-altruism-gender-gap/
Marshall, Melinda and Wingfield, Tai, Getting More Black Women into the C-Suite. Harvard Business Review. Jul 1, 2016. https://hbr.org/2016/07/getting-more-black-women-into-the-c-suite
United Way of Greater Atlanta (UWGA). Women Of Cole. UWGA. 2016. https://www.unitedwayatlanta.org/group/women-of-cole/