Women's networks 'not just a superficial add-on'

Oct 14 2004 by Nic Paton Print This Article

The old boys better beware – women’s networks in big firms are increasingly proving their worth commercially as well as being good for an organisation’s image.

A study by Cranfield School of Management of women’s networks in 12 of the UK largest employers has found they can bring a commercial edge to businesses.

The Making Good Connections report flagged up Ford’s women’s marketing panel as a good example of this.

Its panel had suggested colour coding oil dipsticks to make them easier for customers to see.

Similarly, Barclays’ network reviewed possible products and services for female customers, it added.

Report author Professor Susan Vinnicombe said the research showed businesses were waking up to the commercial benefits of women’s networks.

"It’s dangerous to dismiss women’s corporate networks as nice-to-have or as superficial asides to day-to-day business," she said.

"Women’s networks are a remarkable testament to the way that women have made their mark on male dominated organisations by creating their own space," she added.

Dinah Bennett, senior tutor at Durham Business School and programme director of networking forum Women into the Network, said the research showed the value of networking – both male and female. Firms needed to put structures in encourage both formal and informal networking, she added.

"There is nothing wrong with an old boys’ network as long as there is room for the girls too," she told Management Issues.

"If women are excluded from networks then they are excluded from business development opportunities," she added.

Firms also needed to put in place opportunities for mixed sex networks to develop and flourish, she suggested.

The Cranfield findings are backed research by the Demos think-tank published earlier this year. This found that formal corporate woman’s networks were a growing phenomenon and that they helped women to overcome obstacles to getting on in their careers.