There’s one reason we are building Chairman Mom: We want women and parents to enjoy true equality at work and we are sick of waiting for the patriarchy to deliver it.
Government isn’t going to do it anytime soon. In America, we can’t even get parental leave, let alone universal healthcare, subsidized child care, or quotas for equal board and management representation. And even in countries that have those things, there’s still a pay and opportunity delta between men and women.
Sure, there are some enlightened bosses out there. Are you a contractor for Rent The Runway? Good news! You get the same benefits as employees! Do you work at Netflix? Lucky duck! You get industry-leading parental leave! But left in the hands of enlightened (mostly male) bosses, the divergence between the haves and have-nots only becomes greater.
Media and board activists have pushed companies to release diversity stats and shamed them appropriately. But even that hasn’t convinced companies to change. Nor has the existence of copious data showing how much better companies would perform if they were more diverse and offered better benefits to women and parents.
A lot of technology that was supposed to connect the world has made things worse, not better. 88% of women witness mom-shaming on social media, and the problem doesn’t stop there. Algorithms, fake news, and hate have intentionally inflamed divisions in this country.
So who can we turn to? Chairman Mom’s bet is on the women kicking ass inside companies, large and small, white collar or not. The women who can fight for change and equality from the inside. We want to fight with you, equip you, and help you.
We are talking about the women who run employee resource groups (ERGs), or affinity groups, around shared life experiences like parenthood and gender.
I got a unique insight into ERGs when I was promoting my book and doing dozens of book talks all over the country. I was stunned at how many impressive services these groups offer to pair women with mentors, make sure new incoming talent didn’t feel alone, or ease women’s return to work after giving birth. I was more stunned that most women who run ERGs do not get paid for it.
I’ve spent much of the last eight months that Chairman Mom has been selling into companies as a workplace benefit, digging into ERGs, what they do, and what we can help them with. I’ve talked to dozens of women who lead them, who are setting them up for the first time now, and I’ve read a bunch of case studies. But I couldn’t find the kind of data I wanted. So we commissioned a survey of more than 700 women via Survey Monkey, of all age ranges, income levels and living in all different parts of the U.S.
There was so much fascinating data that came out of this study that is definitely impacting how we scale our business, but I also think could be eye-opening for a lot of you. So I want to spend a few newsletters unpacking it all. (Want more resources for your ERG? Then send this to your HR/executive team!)
In this installment, I want to talk about the good of ERGs, why I feel like it’s the fastest, most scalable option to change things for women right now across industries and across the U.S.
First off, how ubiquitous are ERGs?
Only 28% of those surveyed said their company had an ERG aimed at supporting women and families. Interestingly, if you segment by age, 36% of those surveyed in the 18-29 age range said their company did. That’s likely because ERGs are far more important to younger employees, so either they know about them, work at companies likely to have them, or in some cases may have helped start them. (More on that in a moment!)
Still, even according to the most engaged demographic, nearly two-thirds of companies don’t have ERGs at all. This has been a shock to women I’ve spoken to in tech, but a friend on Facebook pointed out that they are non-existent in industries like education, which is predominantly female-staffed. And you’d be surprised how many large, publicly-traded, multi-billion dollar companies outside of tech that Chairman Mom is talking to right now who don’t have them at all. (We’ll get to some of the “why” when we break down the downsides of ERGs this week…)
How interested are women in joining one if they aren’t in one already? The 37% said “somewhat interested,” with the rest of the answers spread pretty evenly across the spectrum of “extremely interested” to “not at all interested.”
The difference in interest is pretty extreme when you filter by age. A whopping 46% of women aged 45-60 are not at all interested in joining an ERG. The disinterest falls to 30% when you look at the aged 30-44 bracket and among 18-29 year olds, only 14% aren’t interested in joining an ERG. More than 70% of the 18-29 age group was at least somewhat interested in joining an ERG.
How much do younger generations care about ERGs? A lot. So much so that it would impact many of their decisions on where to work. We asked women whether the existence of an ERG aimed at women in families would make a difference in deciding where they want to work.
Bear in mind: Only one-third of them said they work at a company that has an ERG. And yet, a full 39% said the existence/quality of an ERG would impact their decision on where to work. Ten percentage points more than the number of women who said their companies have them.
I wonder if part of that is that the mere existence of an ERG is an objective sign that a company cares?
Let’s look at that question along age lines. Only 32% of the 45-60 age group said it would impact where they wanted to work. 46% of the age 30-44 group said it would impact where they wanted to work. And almost half—48%!—of women aged 18-29 said it would impact where they want to work.
I chalk this up—at least in part—to the changes in attitudes towards being a loud, proud woman in business, not merely an executive who happens to be a woman. Gen X was the ultimate cool girl generation. Women like me were conditioned to believe if you called too much attention to being a woman in business, it would take away from your accomplishments. But Millennials and younger generations find strength and solidarity in it.
The message is clear: The mere existence of an ERG is a massive recruiting boon for nearly half of women aged 18-44. Want to change diversity stats in your company? Want to make sure you are seeing the best female talent? Start an ERG or put more resources behind an existing one.
A Deloitte survey said that 77% of respondents said a company’s paid leave policies would sway their decisions on where to work. But I had a hard time finding any other benefit policy that makes such an impact on women’s employment decisions across the board.
And, again, these are mostly women who are not currently involved with ERGs or don’t work at companies offering them.
So what happens when women actually engage in an ERG? 83% of all women surveyed who are part of an ERG said it had made their lives better at work. The interesting thing is how much this answer didn’t change when you broke the question out by age. 89% of women aged 18 through 60 all said that being part of an ERG had made their lives better at work. Nearly 90%. (Women older than 60 pulled down that overall number.)
I had a hard time finding any one policy or benefit that has that much of an impact on making lives better for women at work. It is even higher than studies about maternity leave. (For instance, some 82% of workers said paid leave creates better morale at work, which is also so insanely high that companies should take note.)
ERGs may be the broadest and most affordable way companies can impact the lives of women in their company, retain them and attract them. And yet, more than two-thirds of companies don’t have one. That points to a massive, massive unfair advantage for those who do get it.
Up this week: A deep dive on what goes wrong with ERGs…stay tuned!
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- How did you find your passion? (Or did you?)
- How do I deal with cliques around ethnicity at my kids’ school? (I’m white)