How to Build a Network Within a Company?

Topic, name, organization and the goal: What is important when setting up a corporate network for a more inclusive environment? The 5 most important tips and insights from experts at Hager Unternehmensberatung

What are the most important first steps to start a women’s or diversity network within a company?

First of all, the numbers need to be put on the table. You should document where you stand as a company in terms of diversity. How is the management team staffed, how high is the proportion of women? Is there fluctuation and if so, why? And how diverse is the workforce as a whole? Furthermore, employees should become aware of their own subconscious behavior patterns and prejudices – the famous unconscious bias. Therefore, it is useful to organize a workshop so that everyone becomes aware of how strongly certain assumptions and images have been internalized. This is often notoriously underestimated. Here is an interesting video of MINDSPACE for a closer view:

Yvonne Klein, Talent Acquisition at Hager Unternehmensberatung
“Every person in this world is shaped by their upbringing, experiences and are therefore unbiased or only partially free of prejudice. I consider it important to sharpen one’s own consciousness, to reflect and to continuously work on oneself, regardless of origin, age, gender, orientation, religion and culture. At the beginning of the 2000s I thought Lifelong Learning is purely professional, but to me it’s clear that it includes topics like these. Personally, I am used to being confronted with questions about women’s quota, fluctuation and diversity and I feel it is normal to talk, discuss and think about them”.

How to make sure that such a network actually has a real impact and is not understood just as mere hype?

Before you start a network, you should be clear about its objectives: What do we want to achieve? Along this line you can determine the necessary steps in terms of content. The key to acceptance is that the network is supported from the very top – literally becomes a matter for the boss. The management team has to support this (credibly!), in order not to give the impression of merely following the trends. Diversity should be a clearly recognizable strategic goal of a company. This also includes creating appropriate resources, both in terms of personnel and organization. Here, too, the wonderful phrase ‘Walk the Talk’ applies. For the initiators, it makes sense to create an inclusive network in the context of broader acceptance and to consciously share it with interested male colleagues. It helps to provide the network with a topic – and choose the name accordingly to its purpose. Another idea could be to invite experts on regular meetings for specific subjects.

Stefanie Nagel, Manager, Business Unit Software at Hager Unternehmensberatung
“Addressing the issue of diversity is a strategic decision of an organization or a company. Developing and implementing approaches that are appropriate for our increasingly diverse society is an important issue that requires commitment from the management level in particular”.

How can the issue of women’s network/diversity be organized systematically?

It is crucial to develop permanent formats for this, either internally with ongoing events or externally with contributions on social media or a regularly published white paper. LinkedIn, in particular, is an excellent platform for companies to feature their employees and to deliberately take all hierarchical levels and diversity dimensions into account. Storytelling and employer branding in the sense of ‘This is who we are’ and ‘Behind the Scenes’ also work well on Instagram. All in all, professionally managed social channels create a credible and attractive image.

Simona Schramm, Team & Projekt Manager at Hager Unternehmensberatung
“It is important to be credible here. Focused on the individuals. To tell ‘their’ story. I think the website’s homepage appearance is also crucial. Here, too, it is essential to introduce your employees. The virtual world is one thing. The real world is the other. I think it also makes sense to organize events and invite external women to exchange ideas. Direct contact is essential here”.

How can hierarchical levels be more permeable?

One smart tool is reverse mentoring. For example, a managing director can be coached by a working student and vice versa. Admittedly, this requires some courage and openness from both sides. But they also gain enormously from the exchange. Especially with regard to age inclusion on one hand and the increasing importance of collaboration and digital transformation on the other, reverse mentoring provides valuable insights.

Christine Trimpel, Manager, Business Unit Industrial at Hager Unternehmensberatung
“In order to meet the challenges of our modern working world, we need a new understanding of the role of managers. This is often still defined by the claim to know more and be able to do everything better than the employees themselves. If, instead, the manager sees his or her essential function in creating freedom for their team to develop their abilities and talents, this is not only extremely fruitful for the goal to be achieved together, but also liberating for the manager. In order to break up traditional hierarchies and unproductive understanding of roles, it is worthwhile to use specific tools for team development and to learn from each other”.

Which memberships in associations/organizations/networks are useful to increase the visibility?

First of all, it is important to network in general. Men have always used networks to advance professionally. Women have tended to be reluctant to use such formats. However, a lot has happened in recent years. With nushu, Mission Female, GDW, Panda, herCareer or Frauen Verbinden, an infinite number of career or business networks have been added. Anyway, spirit and tonality have changed, especially among many younger women, for whom mutual support is a matter of course. A cultural shift that has its origin in the USA. In Silicon Valley, for example, the ‘pay it forward’ principle applies. People help others –  without expecting anything in return. And because this is what everyone does, the idea is that it will benefit you at some point if you need help yourself. Another possibility that should be considered and which at first glance seems to be outdated, are professional associations. This is where you can score points with your expertise and main topics, exchange ideas with the thought leaders in the industry – with corresponding feedback on your career in the company.

Sahar Faraji, Business Unit Manager Construction & Real Estate at Hager Unternehmensberatung
“Networking is by far the most important part of our job! I always try to participate online at all events, fairs, get-togethers in my industry and meet new people, despite my male-dominated industry”.

This article is part of a content cooperation between FemaleOneZero (F10) and Hager Unternehmensberatung. The company, which specializes in executive search, has repeatedly been named one of the best personnel consultancies in Germany by the magazines WirtschaftsWoche and Focus. Hager Unternehmensberatung employs around 110 people and, in addition to its extensive know-how in the field of digitalization, is also considered a specialist in issues relating to diversity and innovation.

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