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What If There Was an Ol' Girls' Network

By Julie Gilbert

If there was a new Girl’s Network in place in companies, all things would be different – including the business strategy, growth opportunities, employee engagement, and communities…not just for women, but for men as well. What is required for this to happen is for women to actually support other women.

When the concept of women supporting other women is first suggested, it is consistently met with an incredulous, “What do you mean? I support other women!” It is not until we start examining the conversely typical behavior, and aftermath, that it becomes clear. We have plenty of work to do.

Let’s look at a typical real life situation that often takes place in companies across the globe, and very likely in your office, with frightening regularity. Think of the last time a woman received a promotion or high-visibility position and the reaction of her female colleagues. Was she overwhelmed with emails from female colleagues congratulating her with a rally of endorsement and support of how she so deserved the past due advancement? Did these women step up and arrange the happy hour to laud this recent achievement?

Or, was this great news met with a deflating silence? Or worse yet, perhaps there were questions and snide comments of “Why did she get that promotion?” or “Who did she know?” The list could go on with negative hypotheses about how she was able to “pull that off” – as if this position were some manipulated conspiracy plan on her part, having no connection to her business outcomes, values and experience. Imagine what could happen if, instead, we came together to support each other’s successes, linked our networks and built massive business opportunities as a result? The notion is not as far fetched as it may sound.

To help quantify this issue and the consequences we all feel, let’s look at the facts. Why is it that an embarrassing number of 10 of the top Fortune 500 CEOs are female, despite the fact that 48 percent of all privately-held firms are at least 50 percent owned by women and between 1997 and 2004, the estimated growth rate in the number of women-owned firms was nearly twice that of all firms?

The majority of consumer decision-making power and bucks spent in most industries is now made by women. The companies that understand this will have few worries about future growth. However, to figure it out, they must get the female lens in all discussions about strategy and execution. Until the guys start wearing nylons, smiling graciously through 10 hours of pain due to the pinch of a high heel on their toes, or understanding why women love the flat panel TV for its sleekness and the elimination of the bulky TV from the living room, we need our female perspective in the discussion. There is not a substitute!

The great news is that a successful support system can be a reality. For example, Best Buy is on a quest to change this dynamic for women leaders at all levels of the organization and make Best Buy the place for women to work and shop. With our WOLF (Women’s Leadership Forum) movement, we now have more than 13,500 female employees — spanning retail and corporate — bonded and innovating new business opportunities aimed at women and building leadership skills at the same time. In a short time, WOLF has significantly increased in our female market share, decreased female turnover by more than 5.7 percent, increased the number of female job applicants by more than 37 percent and increased our give back to communities by more than 1,000 percent (and that’s only a sampling of our total impact).

WOLF has profoundly impacted the culture of Best Buy, creating re-energized authenticity and emotion at all levels. And, it has deliberately brought males into the movement to create not a “girls club” or a “boys club,” but a “we’re all on this team together” club. Everyone wins here – personally and professionally – and great business has and will follow. And, we are just getting started.

So now, imagine a day when women deliberately reach out to each other inside and across companies to promote the skills and leadership talents that make each of us shine. Imagine a day when “happy hours” all over the country start sprouting up filled with women getting together to build relationships, share business opportunities, and make great change happen in communities all over the globe. Imagine a day when 250 of the Fortune 500 companies are led by our female colleagues. Now that is what we should be shooting for. So let’s get moving, ladies!

About the author

Julie Gilbert is a senior vice president for Best Buy, a global retailer of technology and entertainment products and services. She leads retail training and leadership development, guides the company’s innovation engine and employee resource group, WOLF, and oversees the company’s strategy to increase its market share with female customers.