Leadership Robert Half | Protiviti

ENGs Are Having a Moment — And Presenting New Opportunities for Women in Finance to Seize

Sponsored by Robert Half | Protiviti

Employee network groups (ENGs) are having a moment, and they are powerful tools for advancing the important conversations. For women in accounting and finance, these groups can provide invaluable support. Read about how ENGs at Robert Half and Protiviti are growing, and tips to position ENGs for success.

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Employee network groups (ENGs), also known as employee resource groups (ERGs) or workplace affinity groups, aren’t a new concept by any stretch. The first official ERG began in the 1960s — a time of great racial tension — to provide Black employees at Xerox with a safe space to talk about their experiences and advocate for positive change within the organization. However, ENGs, which are voluntary, employee-led groups that form around common interests, backgrounds or demographic factors such as gender, race or ethnicity, have definitely been in the spotlight much more lately.

The staggering disruption of the global pandemic, increased focus on promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in workplaces, and the growing need for businesses to create sustainable, people-centric cultures that attract and retain top talent are just some factors driving this trend. Since the beginning of 2020, 35% of companies have added or expanded their support for ENGs, according to a 2021 study by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org. Today, 90% of Fortune 500 companies have these groups.

Among them is global talent solutions firm Robert Half, which has sponsored the launch of several new ENGs since 2020, including the Global Women’s Employee Network (GWEN). GWEN’s mission is to champion and amplify women’s perspectives while creating networks, community and growth opportunities for women. And Robert Half’s wholly owned subsidiary, Protiviti, a global consulting firm, also supports several thriving ENGs in its organization, including the Initiative for Growth and Retention of Women at Work (iGROWW). Similar to GWEN in its purpose, iGROWW tackles women’s professional issues through various forums and facilitates networking events and community service activities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was certainly a factor in accelerating the formation of GWEN and other new ENGs at Robert Half,” says GWEN’s co-founder Carrie Toal, who is also the manager of Employee Connection at Robert Half and oversees the company’s U.S. Corporate Services Culture Ambassador program. “Many of us were feeling isolated because of the shift to remote work, and we recognized that employee-led groups presented an opportunity for us to stay connected and resilient during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Andrea Spinelli, a managing director at Protiviti, says ENGs like iGROWW and GWEN can help companies to amplify their DEI efforts. “Groups like these fulfill a key part of our strategy at Protiviti, for example, which is empowering our people for the future,” she says. “ENGs help create a work environment where everyone can thrive through inclusion. And while it’s important that these groups are recognized by executive management as a means to inspire the workforce, their real power lies in the fact that they are led by employees.”

Turning the Seed of an Idea Into a Grass-Roots Initiative With Global Reach

Spinelli, who counts herself as an unofficial founding member of iGROWW, remembers how the idea for the ENG first took root. Not long after she joined Protiviti’s Atlanta office in 2006, Spinelli and a few women colleagues decided to enjoy lunch outside. “We got to talking about a lot of things, and one idea that came out of that discussion was how great it would be if we had some type of professional networking organization for women at Protiviti.”

Spinelli, who now works for Protiviti in Boston, is proud to see how the group has evolved over the years to become a vibrant ENG, with many local grass-roots groups across Protiviti locations arising around the globe. iGROWW even influenced the creation of another ENG, Gender Equality in Technology and IT — or “GET IT.” The group focuses on bringing the values and goals of iGROWW to technologists across Protiviti and helping to increase gender diversity in the technology profession.

Starting an Important Conversation — That Hasn’t Stopped

At Robert Half, GWEN launched in March 2021 as a global network with chapters in North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. As of December 2021, the group had more than 900 active members. How was GWEN able to start growing so rapidly right out of the gate? Not only did it have a group like iGROWW to look to for inspiration, but it also had a strong foundation built by Toal and her colleague Stephnee Leathers, the senior director of creative for Robert Half and Protiviti.

The two met at a Robert Half-sponsored International Women’s Day event a few years ago, and, following a lively and thought-provoking discussion that included the other women seated at their table, decided they wanted to keep meeting as a group. So, they created a women’s network on the social networking service, Yammer, to keep up their dialogue. In 2020, when Robert Half decided to formalize its ENG program, Toal and Leathers knew it was time for them to take GWEN to the next level.

As for GWEN’s impressive expansion since launching last spring, Toal says she believes the group’s focus on volunteer involvement has been a key factor. “The real powerhouses driving our ENG forward are our six committees, 20 subcommittees and 34 committee members,” she says. “And while GWEN means something different to every member, the group gives everyone a chance to lead, learn new skills and connect in ways they likely couldn’t in the course of their everyday work. It’s empowering and fulfilling to engage with each other around a common purpose and make a difference.”

Toal also attributes the success of both GWEN and iGROWW to the simple fact that women make up more than half of the global workforce at Robert Half and Protiviti. “We have strong demographic representation,” says Toal. “However, we don’t have as many women, especially underrepresented women, in leadership positions in the organization as we’d like to see. That’s a key reason we strive to bring male allies into our group, as well, so that they can better understand the gender divide, embrace the opportunity to be mentors and champion more women in leadership positions.”

Joining an ENG Can Provide More Time to Focus on Professional Development

Another ongoing objective for GWEN, according to Toal, is bringing more women into the group who are already in leadership roles at the company to share their expertise and experiences with members. Angela Lurie, senior vice president of the full-time contract talent practice, at Robert Half, is one example. She’s been with the organization for more than 20 years and has served in various leadership roles.

Lurie says, “ENGs like GWEN are powerful tools for advancing important conversations to ensure the organization, as a whole, is moving in the right direction. And I think for women in accounting and finance, in particular, these groups can provide invaluable support. Women in these professions often face intense, deadline-driven job requirements that prevent them from focusing on activities vital to their career growth, like networking. But because ENGs schedule their meetings during work hours, women in accounting and finance can find more time to prioritize their professional development.”

And, as for those who want to start an ENG and position it for success, Toal offers the following advice based on her experience so far with GWEN:

  • Partner with the company’s DEI team, senior human resources leaders and other executives early on to get their advice and support for the initiative.
  • Create engaging, relevant content that will create excitement and inspire members. (GWEN, which holds global member meetings at rotating times to provide updates on its membership and programs, usually features a panel session or an interactive group activity, Toal says.)
  • Collaborate with internal and external resources, including other ENGs in the company and strategic partnerships with professional alliances.

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