Is Your Women's Network Lame? Dump the Tea Party!

Last Updated Sep 13, 2010 10:35 AM EDT

Have you ever run into Romy and Michele at your company's women's network?

You remember them: in the 1997 movie, the ditzy duo costumed themselves as businesswomen to try to convince their reunioning classmates that they were big time entrepreneurs. Of course, after a public defrocking they charged back in frocks of their own making and a triumphal exit was enjoyed by all except the former cheerleaders. (Can you tell this is one of my favorite movies? Not that I didn't love high school.)
Many corporate women's networks are too much Romy and Michele. They start out as an awesome idea but quickly devolve into socializing, work-life gripe sessions and - yes- even mani/pedi sessions. (I've seen it with my own eyes.)

Selena Rezvani, who runs NextGenWomen, a consultancy all about developing women business leaders, agrees with me that not all employers need women's networks to identify female talent and create a forum for women to tackle business problems as a sort of internal focus group. Rezvani believes that employers need women's forums if any of these three dynamics are in play at the company.

1. If your leadership team is overwhelmingly male, and your market is not. "At that point, there's a basic problem with insight to the customer," says Rezvani.

2. Your company is making lots of noise about corporate social responsibility. Women of all ages have little patience for claims that are 'big hat, no cattle." A women's initiative can be the internal test market, focus group and reality check for social responsibility claims. Doing so can save your company lots of embarrassment.

3. You need a new way to connect with women clients. Companies that sell to other companies often doubt the value of understanding women customers. Really? With each customer representing thousands of dollars worth of sales, you're derailed thinking about women consumers who buy $1.29 cans of soup? Rezvani says that women's initiatives can be a powerful new channel for sales. I touched on this already when I profiled the Rainmakers Roundtable program that is boosting sales at accounting firm Rothstein Kass.

What's the story at your workplace? Would a women's initiative be a big step towards addressing these three dynamics...or are there others that Rezvani and I should know about?

Morguefile photo by Early53