HR Management & Compliance, Talent

The Importance of Employee Resource Groups for Women

Employee resource groups (ERGs), which provide a safe space for people facing similar challenges to support one another within a company, are very valuable for any diversity and inclusion effort. Today’s article will focus on ERGs for women, with a look at a specific group.

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I had a chance to speak with RedPeg Marketing’s Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Fredda Hurwitz, to discuss the company’s ERG for women. It calls it Women of RedPeg (WoR). Hurwitz defines this group as “an internal and external approach to providing guidance, support, and a safe space to speak, share, learn, and offload.”

Hurwitz described some of the support that WoR provides with two examples. First, the group supports its female members in any effort they make to improve themselves professionally. She gave an example of funding attendance to conferences that are primarily female-led or -focused that colleagues feel would benefit them. Additionally, the group funds scholarships for women who demonstrate a commitment to helping their own community and to finding and helping voices for women.

Another critical part of what an ERG like WoR can offer is a place where people can support each other separately from their official jobs. These involve meetings and dialogues during which members can safely discuss their challenges, their dreams, and how they have overcome hurdles, without fear of negative consequences. And the need for all kinds of ERGs is clear. A recent example of this is a throwaway comment during the group’s monthly meeting: “What I’m really scared of is not being able to figure out my purpose. How do I do that?” This led WoR to invite recent graduates of The Marketing Academy to share what they learned on their 9-month journey to help inform and demystify this for all RedPeg team members, not just WoR.

Why ERGs for Women Are Needed

While I was interviewing Hurwitz, we focused heavily on her experiences and observations during her time in the business world and how those informed her desire to help build a program like WoR. From her point of view—a culmination of her experiences and observations—Hurwitz believes there are several reasons ERGs are necessary for successful corporate cultures.

Speaking Up

Hurwitz worked for a long time in sports and entertainment and says that “it’s been challenging over the years to feel that you are being heard and listened to and that you feel comfortable speaking up or pushing back.” She expounded on the challenge of speaking up, saying, “Women who speak up are sometimes considered the ‘B’ in the room because it’s not necessarily what people are expecting or want.” She notes that this can lead some women to hesitate to speak up or not speak up even when they have valuable ideas to contribute.

The consequences of this challenge are real. Hurwitz explains, “It’s been challenging over the years just demonstrating your value in terms of output, raises, and promotions because sometimes, women have more soft skills, and those things aren’t always valued.” Anyone who has experienced this can understand how that makes an employee with great ideas that aren’t being heard feel.

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is when an employee feels he or she doesn’t belong in a role because the person thinks (incorrectly) that he or she isn’t good enough. Both men and women experience imposter syndrome, but the “way it manifests itself can be quite different,” says Hurwitz. Women tend to be more accepting, vocal, and supportive of each other’s concerns that one day, they’ll be called out. Men may have this same fear but are rarely given license or encouragement to “come clean;” as such, many end up suppressing their feelings and forge ahead without the confidence that they can openly share without being mocked.

When someone does not argue a point or express ideas because the person doesn’t feel like he or she belongs, Hurwitz says to remember that “somebody hired you because there’s something you do that is required. Take a step back; take a deep breath. It’s not a fluke that you happen to be in the room.” She also coaches those who find themselves doubting their value: “If you don’t get the chance within that same meeting environment, try to find the opportunity to go back to whomever was leading that meeting and share.”

Letting Disappointment or Anger Reign

Some might become overwhelmed when they feel they are not being heard or given the space to share their ideas. I can certainly understand the instinct. Hurwitz cautions against this. “What I found over the years,” she says, “is it’s really simple to get angry and irate within the moment and to storm off and simmer; ultimately, your anger actually doesn’t turn against the people who you feel wronged you—it turns against yourself.” She adds that “you start to question if you are right or wrong or if you should have said something.”

Hurwitz suggests the same approach for overcoming imposter syndrome: Have a dialog with yourself, take a step back, and remember that you are not there by accident. You are there for a reason, and even if you can’t bring yourself to contribute your ideas at that moment, you can always address the conversation later.

Being aggressive is another common response to feeling like you are not being taken seriously or if your ideas have been stolen. “There have been many instances over the years when I’ve come up with an idea or put something forward that someone else has taken credit for.” Anger may be the result, but moving forward with anger is ill advised. “I choose my battles in the same way you choose a battle when you are in a relationship because if you’re in constant aggressive mode, that will come off negatively, and you won’t thrive, and you won’t be happy. You might get your point across, but you risk total unhappiness. You’re constantly simmering because you’re not finding the joy in it.”

ERGs

While the focus of this article has been on women’s struggles and why they could use ERGs, the truth is that these struggles are shared by many marginalized groups. ERGs are a great way to build a diverse and inclusive culture in your organization and can provide a forum for people with useful experience like Hurwitz to share it in an open and functional way with others who share the same environment.