Careers Robert Half | Protiviti

ENGs Offer Women in Finance an Opportunity to Amplify Their Voices and Drive Positive Change

Sponsored by Robert Half | Protiviti

Employee network groups (ENGs) are powerful tools for advancing 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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They have different names — employee network groups (ENGs), employee resource groups (ERGs) and workplace affinity groups — but they’re all voluntary, employee-led groups that form around common interests, backgrounds or demographic factors such as gender, race or ethnicity. They’re also powerful tools for advancing important conversations within businesses, including around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and empowering employees to achieve their professional and personal goals. 

The first official ERG began in the 1960s at Xerox. Black employees at the company founded the group because they were seeking a safe space to talk about their experiences during a time of significant racial tension in the country, and they wanted to advocate for positive change within the organization. Today, ERGs, in addition to championing equitable hiring practices and enhancing employee engagement and retention, are being called upon at their companies to provide direct input into many areas — from influencing new product development to vetting marketing campaigns

Many companies are committed to their ERGs’ success, and they’re creating more positive, cohesive and people-centric work environments because of it. According to some estimates, at least 90% of Fortune 500 companies are supporting ERGs in the workplace — and have been doing so for years. And since the start of 2020, about 35% of companies have added or expanded their support for ERGs, according to a recent study by McKinsey & Co. and of 423 organizations employing 12 million people. 

Global talent solutions firm Robert Half is among the many companies providing increased support for workplace affinity groups. Since 2020, the company has sponsored the launch of several ENGs, including Asian Professionals for Excellence (APEX), the Black Employee Network (BEN) and the Global Women’s Employee Network (GWEN). Global consulting firm Protiviti, Robert Half’s wholly owned subsidiary, also supports several thriving ENGs in its organization, including the Veterans Network, Gender Equality in Technology and IT (GET IT), and the Initiative for Growth and Retention of Women at Work (iGROWW). 

Increasing connection through meaningful events and conversations  

Robert Half and Protiviti’s ENGs receive significant funding and support from executive leadership and employee participation in these groups is robust. Many employees are involved with more than one ENG and engage in educational, networking, philanthropic activities and more. At Robert Half, 50% of employees participated in at least one ENG event in 2021.  

GWEN, for example, holds quarterly member meetings and regularly hosts smaller networking opportunities for its over 1,200 members. GWEN has chapters in North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia and New Zealand, and its mission is to champion and amplify women’s perspectives while creating networks, community and growth opportunities for women. GWEN has organized numerous and well-attended special events since its founding in 2021, including: 

  • The “WE Series” program, which featured expert speakers and panel discussions around relevant topics designed to increase member connection and advocacy. 
  • Lean In Circles enable small groups to discuss common interests and share and learn from each other. The initial pilot included 14 circles that ran for six months on topics from parenting to fitness; GWEN now has 18 new Lean in Circles with global member participation this year.  
  • Discussion groups led by Robert Half women leaders around the topic of #breakthebias — the theme for International Women’s Day 2022 — which helped foster deeper discussion about the biases women face in their professional lives and how to enable action toward change. 

“GWEN’s programs and events are meant to help bring awareness, learning and understanding to issues women face in the workplace,” 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. “They also help our members and allies better understand how they can support, champion and amplify each other’s stories and perspectives to bring about positive change. Lifting each other up makes us better in so many ways.” 

At Protiviti, iGROWW has a similar mission to GWEN. The ENG tackles women’s professional issues through various forums and facilitates networking events and community service activities through the year. Andrea Spinelli, a managing director at Protiviti who has been involved with iGROWW since it first started taking shape in 2006, says she’s proud to see how the group has evolved over time. She says iGROWW even influenced the creation of GET IT, Protiviti’s ENG focused on increasing gender diversity in the technology profession. 

“ENGs help create a work environment where everyone can thrive through inclusion,” says Spinelli. “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’re led by employees.” 

Creating a sense of belonging and improving the employee experience 

Women make up more than half of the global workforce at Robert Half and Protiviti, and Toal says that’s no doubt a key reason that GWEN and iGROWW are flourishing. She also credits GWEN’s focus on volunteer involvement as a factor for the ENG expanding its membership, profile and influence so quickly. “The real powerhouses driving our ENG forward are our six committees, 20 subcommittees and 34 committee members,” Toal says. 

GWEN co-founder Stephnee Leathers, who is Senior Director for Creative for Robert Half and Protiviti, says she’s proud of the significant impact that GWEN has made in just a short time. Leathers met Toal at a Robert Half-sponsored International Women’s Day event in 2018. Following, a lively and thought-provoking discussion that included other women seated at their table, the duo decided to keep up their conversation — and connection — both offline and digitally. In 2020, when Robert Half decided to formalize its ENG program, Leathers and Toal decided the time was right to launch GWEN. 

“GWEN has helped others feel seen and heard and create a sense of belonging,” says Leathers, noting that the ENG has also played a critical role during the pandemic in helping members feel connected to the company and each other while working remotely. “GWEN has given our members something greater than themselves to contribute to, be a part of and shape. All the ENGs at Robert Half and Protiviti are truly changing the experience for employees at Robert Half and providing meaningful experiences.” 

Tips for launching an ENG—and making it successful 

Based on their personal experiences founding GWEN and helping the group evolve into the vibrant, global ENG it is today, Toal and Leathers offer these recommendations to other women — or anyone —who would like to start an ENG at their company: 

  • Partner with the company’s DEI team, senior human resources leaders and other executives early in the process to get their advice and support for the initiative. 
  • Create engaging, relevant content that will inspire members and keep them engaged with and actively contributing to the group.  
  • Collaborate with internal and external resources, including other ENGs in the organization and strategic partnerships with professional alliances. 

Welcoming internal allies is also vital to an ENG’s long-term success, especially when it comes to accomplishing goals that require support from more than just a group’s members. For example, one of GWEN’s objectives is to see the number of women, including underrepresented women, in leadership roles to continue increasing at Robert Half. “That’s a key reason we strive to bring male allies into our group, so that they can better understand the gender divide, embrace the opportunity to be mentors and champion more women in leadership positions,” Toal says. 

Visit the  Robert Half  and  Protiviti  websites to learn how our companies are  supporting  diversity  in accounting, finance, and other fields.