For International Women's Day 2018, our own Clare Lawson and Nicola Clifford spoke to B2B Marketing about the importance of women's networks and why you should join one.


Clare Lawson
MD of OgilvyOne UK
Member of WPP’s Walk the Talk programme

The opportunity for women at similar points in their career to come together and offer strong peer support was what attracted Clare to join WPP’s Walk the Talk programme. She brands this as one of the best examples for an effective women’s network. “It became a group of CEOs, MDs and other women in senior roles across the agency network who could relate to and support one another in a meaningful and relevant way.”

During her 14 years at Ogilvy she admits – due to a conscious inclusion of diversity and gender into the company’s dynamic – she has never felt like a minority. But this hasn't deterred Clare from seeing the importance of women’s networks, which she says face the challenge of not only getting behind people to effectively support their goals, but also locating a peer group that will instigate change.

“From discussions I've had with women in the industry, there's still a great need for supportive networking groups in less open office environments. They continue to walk into rooms dominated by males, so for them to be able to discuss certain issues in the space of a women’s network remains just as important.”

Despite Clare outlining a saturation of male CMOs and male-oriented bias in B2B, she insists the primary challenge women’s networks face is positive... “to encourage women to remain in the industry.”

Clare remembers attending her first B2B marketing industry event as MD, a conference that’s stuck in her memory not only for wearing red trousers among a sea of grey corporate suits, but for being one of only two women at the conference.

“While women breaking barriers should be celebrated, I’ve always believed anyone should be appraised first and foremost for their capability"

“It’s those moments where you can turn being a minority into a positive statement. Yes, there's a challenge on gender parity in B2B marketing. Yes, we need to redress the balance. But I can see change is slowly but surely coming, which is an encouraging sign that future generations will have more female role models in senior leadership to aspire to.

“In the wider industry, I believe women’s networking groups provide a safe space to talk over matters, ranging from equal pay to flexible working rights. If women cannot access this, it can be detrimental both to keeping them at your company and to women remaining in the discipline, since they're unable to balance personal and professional lives. I also feel it’s valuable in maintaining a woman’s point of view at a company.”

Clare looks to her own situation – as a mother of two – as an example of how a networking group may be needed for others in the same position. Although Clare says she works in a comfortable environment with flexible hours, she realises others aren’t so fortunate and this is where women’s networking groups can offer support and advice.

However, mentorship is not something specific to women, nor is it something every women wants. Clare is currently a mentor to three people (two female and one male) and agrees some women need mentorship and others don’t. Furthermore, mentors don’t always have to be female. “I think it depends on the challenge they face or what exactly they want to get out of mentorship. If they're seeking advice for gender-relevant struggles at work, a female mentor makes sense. If their objectives are more widely focused on unlocking potential, a male or female mentor factors less into their decision.”

There's a certain ambiguity surrounding networks and what they actually celebrate, but Clare insists it's praising impressive skill sets that sits at the heart of women’s networking groups.“While women breaking barriers should be celebrated, I’ve always believed anyone should be appraised first and foremost for their capability,” Clare explains. “I think when that is complemented by the fact that a trailblazer is a woman, you are putting out a much more holistic view of successful women and you encourage women to reach new heights in their careers.”

Clare’s tips for starting your own women’s networking group

  • Aim for a women’s group that is smaller in scale, has a targeted set of objective and provides real substance to the audience it supports.

  • Don’t silo women’s groups that aim to offer mentorship – being too specific will deter the next generation.

  • Embrace modern technologies (Clare’s Walk the Talk peer group have a WhatsApp group they ask and answer questions on, which has become a valuable resource to her).

  • If you’re just starting out, don’t make monetary barriers – people should be able to join and take advantage of benefits with ease.

Nicola Clifford
Client director at OgilvyOne UK
Head of Women at Ogilvy

Head of women’s networking group Women@Ogilvy, Nicola says she’s proud to see such strong gender diversity in her workplace. But she knows this isn’t the case for many women in organisations. “I speak to women who still speak of issues that echo Mad Men-esque scenarios,” she explains. “Yes there's more awareness now, but there is still a long way to go. All professional networks celebrating diversity are developing. The great change is these groups raising issues and making a real difference in gaining awareness."

Nicola outlines the lack of female role models as a key challenge to tackle – something she says is an indicator of where we are in the cycle of change in regards to gender in the workplace. “Right now, the spread of female talent isn’t wide enough. Women look ahead and don’t see a path to higher leadership or any drivers to get them excited about their career prospects. There remain few mentorship opportunities.”

Although Nicola recognises that mentoring is a personal choice, she says there's more of a demand for female mentors due to their increased availability. “With more women taking on leadership roles and achieving a balance, there are now more role models for younger women.”

But the problem is not just in the workplace but in schools, where there appears to be a lack of understanding around the opportunities for women in the industry. “Even in cases where an agency is 54% female to male, they predominantly work in client services or account management, before dropping off mid-career,” Nicola explains. But she’s not lost hope: she says these trends are slowly changing and women’s networking groups are helping this discussion.

"...a women’s network still provides a space for women to talk about issues that affect them specifically – whether it’s parenting, health, wellness or flexible working”

Nicola explains providing speakers and the skill-sharing aspect of groups has helped to bring women a route to confidence – something she believes is the biggest benefit of women’s networking groups. “It should be a place where you can ask any question and know you will receive support. It’s tools like these which I feel women in the industry should all be able to access. Beyond enriching women’s careers, just being part of the network brings a sense of belonging. You can forge lasting friendships and interact with people who have like-minded challenges and ambitions.”

However, Nicola warns that when it comes to reaping the benefits of the group’s connections, you get back what you put in. “If you actively participate and come into the group with a proactive mindset, you will get enriching relationships and experiences out of it. These could be friends, career-length contacts or even new clients. If you shy away from engaging, you will ultimately have a less rewarding experience.”

Nicola admits that how a women’s networking group differs from a mixed gender group is entirely down to individual networks and men don’t always have to be excluded. “In my eyes, you can have a women’s network that welcomes the contribution of men and their voice in the conversation. But I definitely feel a women’s network still provides a space for women to talk about issues that affect them specifically – whether it’s parenting, health, wellness or flexible working.”

Women’s networking groups have faced criticism for allegedly segregating women and offering praise based on gender, but Nicola believes praise is, and should, focus on achievements. “But don’t let that discourage hailing them as female role models, especially since historically there have been so few in this arena” she adds. “Herald these women for their accomplishments first and foremost, and then acknowledge them breaking the glass ceiling to further inspire women everywhere.”

Nicola insists women’s networking groups are relevant to every business – whether you experience issues surrounding gender or not. “Here at Ogilvy, I feel really fortunate that we have a welcoming environment and an existing women’s network, but that shouldn’t lead to complacency. There's still work to be done and I believe women’s networks should continue to be hailed as industry examples for what the norm could be in the future.”

Nicola’s tips for starting your own women’s networking group

  • Decide what the role of men in your group or with your group is.

  • Find core group members who are passionate, driven and prepared to put the time and effort in.

  • Meet frequently until you establish what your plan and objectives are – after this you’ll be able to maintain a more remote network.

  • Be ready for the network to pose some issues in the wider organisation, don’t wait for an issue to arise before setting up a women’s network.


Read the full article on B2B Marketing here.