Women's Networks in the Workplace

I pull posts from my archives each week. This week, rather than searching for a post on a specific topic, I took another approach. My daughter is 12 years old so I went 12 pages back in my history and selected the post at the top of the page. We're flashing back to women's networks in the workplace.



I am a woman, I seek out books and blogs written by women, I am coached by a woman, and I am one of three founding members of the very cool, soon-to-be-released Women of HR website.

So, why does the idea of a women's network in the workplace make me uneasy?

A Sum of My Experiences

I listened closely last month during the Women's Leadership Conference as panel members discussed  women's networks. One senior woman leader stated she declined to participate in the women's network because, "she was not a victim." This stopped me in my tracks with a flicker of recognition. Wow.

Flashback to 1985 to me as a brand new second lieutenant looking to make a name for myself. I was highly encouraged to join a women's network by my battalion commander. That network was the officer's wives club. Good intentions and gender aside, I had little in common with this group.

Flashback to early 1990s to me reporting into a new unit. My commander held the door for me, offered me his seat, and, clearly uncomfortable, asked if he could make me some coffee. Tucking away this little power of balance nugget, I assured him I was more capable than most of the men in his unit. We took it to the pistol range. Girl out shoots boy. Case closed.

The women's networks of 2010 are very different from the officer wives clubs of 1985, yet they leave me with the same uneasiness. 

Proving a Point

I'd like to say my prowess with a 9mm back in the day was a result of my natural marksman skills, but it was not. It was the result of one non-commissioned officer, my Lady Wesson, weekends at the Ramstein Rod and Gun club, and a desire to prove a point. That was not the first time I felt I had to prove a point, nor was it the last.

I was treated differently because of my gender and that was the last thing I wanted. Is that what this uneasiness is all about? Or is it because women's networks do not belong in the workplace?

Succession Planning. Fascinating.


If I had one word to describe the final day of  The Conference Board Succession Management Conference, that would be it - fascinating. CEO succession, technology of Talent Management, the "neuro" of leadership - wow!

Focusing on succession planning for the top position, Michael J. Critelli, former CEO of Pitney Bowes, reminded us being in the "continuous fish bowl" of CEO requires a unique set of skills and guided us through factors to consider when evaluating candidates for this top position. 

In his matter-of-fact, down to earth way, he shared his criteria for conducting an executive evaluation, (base on capabilities and not credentials, look at full range of experiences inside and outside the workplace, gather 360 feedback) and the need for senior executive competence in risk management. Senior executives of today must know how to identify, plan for, mitigate and disclose risk (yes, disclose) to the Board of Directors.

There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance and no imperial figures allowed when Michael is around.


Ever wonder "What Does the Brain Have to Say About Engaging Our Top Talent?" Honestly, I had not. After 60 minutes with David Rock, Co-Founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, my answer now would be - more than I had imagined.  

It all comes down to this, David presented, the brain has one organizing principle - minimize threat and maximize reward - and we respond to everything (yes, everything) through that one principle. Feedback, performance reviews, walking into a conference session, meeting someone for the first time . . . same principle.

The brain is not only "organizing," it is social (who knew!)  responds within 5 social domains.  Now, as you read this very brief summary of the 5 social domains, think about - as we did in the session - what this means for your sucession management program.   

  1. Status. In this domain, the brain decides who is better and reacts to status threats as if life is in danger. Feedback can be perceived as a threat (surprise!).
  2. Certainty. The brain is a prediction machine and uncertainty is treated like pain by the brain.
  3. Autonomy. The brain likes to be able to predict and have a say in the future.
  4. Relatedness. In this domain, the brain is evaluating friend or foe, trust or distrust, and connect or don't connect. Foe is the default.
  5. Fairness. In this domain, the brain decides if an action is fair - or not.

David did not leave us with the answer to a perfect succession management program but offered these social domains as something to consider as a succession management program is being developed or evaluated.

Think about high potentials competing for positions vs. camaraderie, balancing transparency with status, degree of self-directed vs. prescribed processes, scenarios vs. commitments and above all, the people involved. Note: The findings from the Center for Creative Leadership study, High-Potential Talent, A View From Inside the Leadership Pipeline  (presented yesterday) are linked here.

Wrapping up the day, we had the pleasure of hearing from 3 companies (FedEx, Turner Broadcasting System and Clearwater Paper Corporation) who are using SaaS to promote an integrated talent and Succession Management System Strategy.

I came into this program facing a Succession Management elephant not knowing where to take the first bite. I leave with ideas and, above all, action steps I can take to start discussions with others within my organization.

The Conference Board staff did it again - another first class, first rate conference from beginning to end.

Note: I attended this conference as a guest of The Conference Board to provide my honest assessment of the conference and share information I deemed relevant, valuable and of interest to my readers.