Make Your Women's Initiative Pay For Itself

Last Updated Oct 4, 2010 11:03 AM EDT

Caroline Leies didn't create a women's initiative at MorganFranklin to make friends inside the company. She pioneered the initiative at the 300-employee technology consulting firm to equip its relatively few women to make friends outside, and to convert those friends into clients.
Leies, a managing director, had seen how ingrown women's networks can become at big companies. Her take: when the initiative is not focused on building external results, it quickly becomes aimless. Some big employers where she'd worked were constantly relaunching their women's initiatives to fanfare, only to see them spiral down into irrelevancy, forcing another splashy relaunch.

Here's how she learned from those experiences to build a gazelle of a network at MorganFranklin.

The first year of the network - 2007 - she planned only six events. Two of those were externally focused: current and potential clients were invited. "It got our name out there," she says. "It really was a differentiator." And to justify the initiative, she started keeping track of key metrics: how many were involved, how many new clients were gained.

Pondering the next year's agenda, she realized that one of the big draws for men's networking events is the aura of exclusivity. "You invite them to golf at a course they can't usually get into," she explains. She aimed to bring in a couple of marquee speakers each year whose magnetic draw was so powerful that tickets to the event would be coveted by everyone. This shifted power into the hands of the initiative members who controlled the currency of the tickets and helps them gain traction as rainmakers - a skill essential for elevation to the top ranks. Last year, MorganFranklin's roster included speakers from the Treasury Dept., the International Monetary Fund, and banking bigwigs.

Here is the initiative's ROI to date:
  • MorganFranklin women employees has Increased by 32%
  • MorganFranklin women at the senior manager level or higher has increased by 50%
  • Women in the initiative's external network of current and potential clients - about 350, with about 310 of those at the decision-making director to executive level
  • New client leads generated:25
  • New business meetings generated as a direct result: 40
Convinced, the firm's male leaders are now promoting the network as part of their own outreach to potential clients. "We've brought in clients we've targeted for years, because of the women's initiative," says Leies.

  • Joanne Cleaver

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