Spark Change in the Workplace
By Chelse Benham
“Women face different challenges than men in the workplace. To meet these
challenges successfully women must network with other women.” – Advancing
Women Web site
There are many ways to spark change in the workplace. It manifests through
teamwork, alliances and cooperative work environments. Change is born from a
mutual agreement that what is in place is not adequate for meeting the needs of
the people involved, thus a new way of doing things is desired.
Change is always a challenge, but one should remember, there's strength in
numbers and in sheer determination. There are proven ways in which people,
especially women, can work together to improve their chances of success in an
organization, the most promising of which require no initiative from management.
“Women’s Athletic Fundraisers (WAF) formed five years ago to meet the needs
of The University of Texas-Pan American’s women athletes,” said Lynn
Jimerson, chair of WAF and the publication production manager in the Office of
University Relations at UTPA. “The group has raised money and promoted the
women’s athletic programs at the University. We have affected a positive change
in our women’s athletic facilities and equipment that otherwise would not have
occurred. This is a good example of women coming together and creating
One of the most positive forms of change is one in which women come together
and put in place programs that benefit other women in the workplace, at all
career levels. Forming a support group that focus on such issues as:
the "unwritten rules" of the workplace,
child care issues,
areas of interest and hobbies,
sharing a person’s special talents and skills,
organizing responsibilities and
professional skill building.
These are just a few areas where creating a support group proves effective and
informative. So many more areas of interest can be discussed by members of a
group. It is up to the group to decide its focus. Sub groups may form as the focus
narrows allowing people with similar and specific interests to form associations
for support. The possibilities are limitless.
According to Deborah J. Swiss, author of “Women Breaking Through,
Overcoming the Final 10 Obstacles at Work ," the strength of traditional male
business networks is achieved through trust that's established through personal
friendships, after-hours socializing and a shared acceptance of how business has
always been conducted.
“Until cultural and societal norms evolve in a way that comfortably includes
women and men on equal terms, women need to build productive relationships
among themselves to accelerate the pace of change,” Swiss said in an article,
“Creating a Support System in the Workplace,” found at Advancing Women Web
The first task is to foster a sense of community, because that is the catalyst
which drives communication and forms the foundation for both networking and a
That sense of community can be created by forming relationships through
grassroots organization. Bring people together with a common goal or goals to
help them maximize professional success. It is one of the best ways of creating
change in the workplace and accelerating professional acumen.
When beginning a new group there are some questions the group must ask itself
in order to create a cohesive focus and maintain momentum. Here are some
questions and suggestions the newly forming group should consider:
Decide exactly what the purpose of the group will be. It is especially
important for a new group with limited resources to clearly identify its
Identify who will be in your group. You don't need to have a large number
of people; a group can start with one or two people.
Choose a name for your group. Your name should be simple and clearly
convey your focus.
Create a mission statement that reflects the values and issues of the
Decide whether you will ask for an annual membership donation.
Decide who the group leader(s) will be. This may naturally form itself by
those who initiate the group. As time goes on, however, those initial
leaders may rotate out to allow for new leaders.
Determine when, where and how often the members of your group will
For privacy and security consider getting a post office box for your group's
Create a simple logo and letterhead to identify your group. For a logo, ask
a graphic design student for help. Letterhead can be easily and
inexpensively done on a personal computer, or by a quick-print business
like Kinko’s. Letterhead can identify your group as a professional
organization, establish legitimacy and provide uniformity for all of your
Decide where your base of operations will be. Then dedicate a filing
cabinet, or even a plastic filing crate, for your group's business records.
Create files for: membership, finances, contact information and
correspondence, documentation of conflicts, media contacts and all
related articles and the group’s history.
If there is money from dues, keep simple but accurate financial records:
save all receipts, record the dates, amounts and purpose for all money
spent or received.
Prepare form letters and other copies your group will need: membership
sign-up forms, welcome letters for new members, thank you letters for
donations and a position paper explaining the issues.
Build a network and identify the "power people!"
Research and collect contact information for organizations and individuals
your group will need to work with: congressional reps, community leaders
and business owners, etc.
Develop your media contacts. Make a list of all media outlets and
individuals who may be interested in your group's purpose and activities.
Include the name and title of the contact, their address, phone, fax, email,
deadlines, and how they prefer to receive your info.
Learn the formula for writing effective press releases. This is an effective
and inexpensive way of keeping your issue out front.
Create a web site to inform others about the issues and to collect names
If the group decides it needs to raise funds, create fundraising activities
that also spread the word about your group and its purpose. Ideas include
raffles, benefit concerts and performances, yard sales, fun runs and races,
etc. Investigate sponsorships from local businesses.
Support groups can be very effective so it might lead one to question why there
aren’t more groups for women?
Dr. Sarah Banda Purvis, author and psychologist, wrote in her article, “Why
Women Don't Help Other Working Women” that many women don’t support each
other because “most women tend to be insecure about their role or status in the
male-dominated workplace and understandably so. Their initial observations
upon entering typical business settings cannot help but focus on the dearth of
women in influential positions. Given the few number of females in leadership
roles, a "survival of the fittest" mentality seems to emerge for a working woman
with any degree of career aspirations. A basic element of this survivalist
approach appears to involve abandonment of the nurturing qualities many
females inherently possess and conformity to the more calculated, competitive
behavioral model commonly endorsed by businessmen.”
Women need to be aware of this work world reality and individually determine
how to deal with it. Cutting through workplace myths and misconceptions may be
a good first step for better assessing and handling such situations.
According to Purvis, professional women want three things:
1) financial equality,
2) an opportunity to apply skills and credentials - rather than being used as a
token or serving to embellish an employer's EEO statistics and
3) career advancement and promotions as rewards for a job well done.
So how can forming a women’s support group in the workplace help women
obtain those things? Consider the following benefits:
Mentoring is an excellent example of how women coming together can
improve their situation. Mentoring can be a shortcut to career success
because it provides a safe, protected environment in which one can learn.
One benefits from the mentor's experience without having to go through
the trial and error of learning those same lessons over the years; time is
compressed, mistakes don't have to be repeated. Valuable lessons,
knowledge, attitudes and recognition of opportunities are passed on.
Networking is made easier by group association. Introductions are
multiplied when people get together and share their contacts.
Self-evaluation and assessment of individual qualities and skills can be
discussed with others to help in negotiating for a pay raise or promotion.
Learning of job openings or obtaining references are made easier through
The sharing of information creates power. Establishing strong affiliations
through group association can put you on the inside track of valuable
Sharing information about time management and venting about daily
stresses can facilitate in problem solving and provide a release of tension
and a sense of support. You may feel less alone and isolated.
There are so many worthy reasons for forming or joining a support group. If there
isn’t one in your organization be the first to initiate one. If there is a group,
already established, investigate to see if it fits your needs and then respectfully
inquire about joining. Once in the group, be sure to participate and contribute.
Establish yourself as an active and vital member. Hiding in the shadows won’t
affect change for yourself or the group.
“Keep marching continuously in the direction of your dreams and one day you will
be leading the life you have imagined." – Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)