Last night we celebrated International Women's Day at an event co-hosted with Zurich. One of the most interesting speakers for me was Dr Jonathan Ashong-Lamptey who spoke about the importance of what he called "employee resource groups" in an organisation. Our own Women + network is one of these, as is the brilliantly named WIN (Women's Innovation Network) at Zurich.
His research has shown that these groups can be immensely powerful in instigating change. The CEO of Zurich, Tulsi Naidu, agreed that WIN has allowed her to engage with employees outside of the usual internal structures, giving her the opportunity to gain insights into the business which she wouldn't otherwise have had. The groups themselves have the ability to gather data and build a business case for change in a way which HR or management might find difficult. The chair of WIN, Rose St Louis, illustrated this by the example of how WIN designed and implemented a trial of 1500 workers on flex-working, which directly led to the introduction of a company wide flex-working policy.
It's easy to brand special interest groups like women's networks as forums for people to get together and moan, but Jonathan's research has shown that they are overwhelmingly a positive force, not just for the individuals who join them, but for the whole organisation.
I've attached a link to Jonathan's website for anyone who'd like to read more about his research.