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Why Women’s Networks Need To Get Better At Getting Together

Women’s networks exist to connect women, aid their career progression and provide a support system of likeminded colleagues, however research shows such networks could do more if they too worked together
  • A new ECWO study investigated the workings of 100 women’s organisations and networks in the Netherlands, and the relationships between them
  • The study found that women’s networks are missing out on the benefits of collaborating with each other to tackle issues at a higher level
  • The results may have a wider impact on women’s networks across the world, says ECWO’s executive director

A group of voices is better than one, particularly when it comes to creating social change.

Likeminded individuals often join forces to help tackle some of the biggest issues in the workplace. This may be in the form of worker’s unions, lobbying groups or women’s networks.

Although women account for just under 48 percent of the global workforce, only 27 percent of women are managers and leaders, according to TeamStage’s Women in the Workplace report.

Women in senior roles also experience a pay gap of 20 percent compared to men in similar roles, and just under half (42 percent) of women featured in the study claim they have been discriminated against at work because of their gender.

There is clearly a long way to go to achieve equality in the workplace. These are just some of the reasons why individuals at a company or organisation often come together to form a women’s network.

What are the benefits of joining a women’s network?

At their core, women’s networks are spaces that encourage women and those who support women to meet regularly and connect with likeminded people, discuss meaningful issues and help to create positive change.

Women’s networks are everywhere, and they aren’t just limited to your company. You’ll find women’s networks focused specific industries, location or even skillsets.

These networks usually work towards achieving similar goals to help women, which may include:

  • Securing equal pay
  • Gaining better gender representation
  • Ensuring social safety
  • Gaining advice from others in a supportive environment
  • Working towards a greater sense of belonging
  • Networking and accessing opportunities

Above all, women’s networks aim to unite women from all different backgrounds, to share experiences, brainstorm initiatives and share their ideas in a welcoming and non-judgmental environment.

A lack of connection between women’s networks

Participants at the conference in De Forumzaal at EUR

However, these networks can only have limited success on their own. Despite recognising this, many women’s networks choose to operate individually, according to recent research by the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO) at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

The ECWO study investigated the workings of Overarching Women’s Organisations or Networks operating in the Netherlands, and the relationships between them.

The study found that while women’s networks nurtured a collective of connected individuals and voiced the desire to collaborate to draw greater attention to their work, they didn’t actually connect with similar organisations.

“What was interesting is that we found a mismatch between what we saw online and what we found in the survey. In other words, what the organisations claimed to do online and what they actually wanted to do was different,” said ECWO’s assistant researcher Kirsten Kardijk.

For the study, the researchers used a mix of Dutch and English keywords linked to women, organisations, and networks to identify the collectives currently operating in the Netherlands.

Experts in the field of women’s organisations such as Marguerite Soeteman-Reijnen and Eline Kurvink then evaluated the collected organisations and networks critically, to get a clear view of their economic nature, mission and vision.

From this, a shortlist of 100 organisations and networks were identified and divided into seven categories, based on each organisation’s most prevalent features:

  • Recruiting
  • Platform
  • Co-work
  • Capital
  • Network
  • Institution
  • Ideology

A survey was then distributed to each network.

While these women’s networks voiced the desire to collaborate in order to draw greater attention to their work, there were several things holding them back, the research found.

These barriers to communication between the groups included a lack of transparency and a general assumption that each group was too different from one another.

Collaborate on common challenges

Kirsten Kardijk presenting the results of the survey at ECWO’s 2022 Conference
Kirsten Kardijk at ECWO’s 2022 Conference

By working together, sharing information and arranging events with other organisations, women’s networks can help to create more inclusive work environments, says ECWO’s Executive Director, Professor Hanneke Takkenberg.

Professor Takkenberg believes the study’s findings have an impact outside of the Netherlands for connecting women’s networks on a national or even international scale.

“The theme of our annual conference this past November was (Re)Connecting (Wo)men – which echoed and broadened a core aspect of ECWO’s work and that is to connect, collaborate, support and amplify women,” she says.

“The research we undertook showed that women’s organisations are not yet collaborating on common challenges but they have the ambition to. We hope that, through our conference, research and work, we are able to help in the creation of a meta network for women’s organisations.”

ECWO’s report, “(Re)connecting (Wo)men – overarching women’s organisations and
networks in the Netherlands”
, is available read via Rotterdam School of Management’s website.

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