Breaking into the Good Ol’ Boys Club

Breaking into the Good Ol’ Boys Club

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032607CAREER.JPGTaking part in an employee resource group will not only equip you with the answers to the questions you seek, but it will also help you to form important relationships, become comfortable speaking with executives and arm you with the resources you'll need to further your career.

Among the nation's companies that have these programs, is Duke Energy. In 1993, when they were still CG&E, a program was launched in attempt to provide women performing traditional jobs, such as clerical work and accounting, with the information they needed to advance their careers. In 1996, a second chapter began. This was created for a completely different group of women: those with nontraditional jobs. In 2002, Duke meshed all of the groups together and formed the Business Women's Network (BWN).

Today, BWN is a Washington, D.C.-based organization providing resources, publications and benchmarking services for business and organizations related to diversity and women.

This group, and groups like it, are growing in popularity and helping women of all career paths, backgrounds and job titles to reach their goals. The first chapter of the BWN had 30 people and today that number has grown to 275. This program's mission is to “motivate and support all women.”

“Women can go to our Web site [ ] and fill out a membership registration form,” explains the Midwest BWN chair, Dovetta Dangerfield. “This is how you contact the officers to let them know you are interested. Throughout the year, there are many ways for women to become aware of this program. We have fliers and posters and we send out emails and invitations with the information about the program.” They also send out questionnaires and surveys to help them understand what information will be beneficial for the women involved.

BWN members meet during and after work. If there is training to complete or a topic to discuss, the members will meet during their lunch break. They attend a conference each year, participate in volunteer activities, have “lunch and learn” sessions, as well as their monthly meetings.

“The main focus is to get information that is beneficial for moving up, to the women who are interested,” says Dangerfield. “We provide training and communication about professional development, health and wellness, work life, home life and even spiritual life.”

Groups with similar missions have been popping up all over the nation. Deloitte, an organization of member firms devoted to providing professional services and advice, has a program similar to the BWN. Since its inception in 1993, the Women's Initiative (WIN) has helped thousands of women to succeed through a number of leadership and professional education programs.

“WIN is driven at all levels and through all avenues within our organization,” explains Jennifer Gardner, director in Deloitte's HR division and regional advisor to WIN. “Our approach is to leverage multiple avenues and multiple programs to address a variety of needs. At the end of the day, everyone is responsible for the success of WIN. Each team utilizes multiple approaches to support our vision.”

According to Elaine Allison, international speaker and author of The Velvet Hammer: PowHERful Leadership Lessons for Women Who Don't Golf (Positive Presentations Plus, 2005), programs such as the BWN and WIN have the power to affect the future of companies and the future of society as a whole. “If organizations tap into this source within their companies,” says Allison, “they will be more profitable as they reach out to demographics they may not have considered. When we garner the perspectives of both genders in our corporations, politics, religion and even sport, I feel it will be magic.”

Women within Duke are already seeing positive change in their careers as well as the success of the company. “Programs like the BWN are already beneficial,” states Dangerfield. “I started in a job that was traditionally held by a man. I was the first female gas plan operator and without the BWN I would have been lost. The ratio of women to men in upper management has already increased.”

Deloitte's Gardner feels the same about WIN. “I have personally benefited as a result of Deloitte's Women's Initiative and my involvement in it,” says Gardner. “I have had the opportunity to work with some exceptional women. Through them, I have forged professional relationships, found mentors and role models and developed a network of professionals that support me in my own professional and personal development.”

Women like Dangerfield and Gardner pull from their own personal experiences to know what information will best help the women of the BWN and WIN. They've traveled the path to upper management and they will do anything in their power to help others do the same because they were assisted in reaching their goals.

“I have an 11-year-old daughter, and for most of her life I was a single mother,” explains Gardner. “Deloitte's commitment to providing flexibility is directly responsible for my success here. I frequently telecommute to accommodate her school schedule or even just to attend a school event in the middle of the day. Deloitte creates an environment where I can be a valuable, successful professional, and a good mom. I don't have to choose between the two, and that means the world to me!”

Duke Energy and the Buisness Women's Network is devoted to the betterment of the lives of the women working there. As the BWN's mission statement says, “It provides employees an opportunity to engage in conversations with senior leaders concerning the leadership skills specific to women's shared experiences and professional development needs. It enables employees to acquire and develop those skills. BWN also provides heightened awareness of women's issues in order to remove barriers to personal growth and development. As such, it is recognized as a valued resource within Duke Energy.”

If you want to be a part of a program like the BWN, within your organization, or you are interested in having a mentor, don't be afraid to contact executives. “It is up to the individual woman whether or not she wants a mentor,” explains Duke Energy Ohio and Kentucky president, Sandra P. Meyer. “If you want to go through formal mentoring, all you have to do is apply. Call and ask. You don't have to wait.”

Meyer is an executive sponsor of the BWN. She is one of the original founders in Charlotte, N.C., and she participates in the original committee. Meyer urges all employees – men and women – to get involved in employee resource groups, as she knows from personal experience the power of a united group of people working together for the same cause: your rise to the top.