Group of women during networking session, women's networking group at work

Article by MunMun Malik is Vice President, Operations & Innovation at ServiceMax

There’s strength in numbers, as the saying goes, but it’s not necessarily front of mind when you’re younger.

When I did my Biomedical Engineering degree, I wasn’t the only woman in my classes, but we were definitely the minority. When I got out into the workplace, the contrast became much sharper.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked for some great companies so far throughout my career, but I was used to that ‘strength in numbers’ axiom applying to someone else. As a non-white female engineer, I was very much a singular number in my workplace. By the time I had worked my way up to middle management in the early 2000s, I remained a metaphorical ‘party of one’ managing an all-male team of technicians.

There was zero support targeted just at women from most of my employers at the time. No outlet, no leadership assistance, no female network. There was one female executive at my company who was the CFO. We didn’t have much overlap in our jobs, and although I tried to get close to her for mentoring but there was no formal way of carving out the space, time, or opportunity. At times, it seemed like I was fending for myself or having to be my own advocate every chance I got.

From zero to a hundred

When I joined my current employer, ServiceMax, there were a lot of women in the company and leadership team, which was one of the biggest reasons that drew me here. It provided a supportive environment where I felt I had an opportunity to grow and create something meaningful. In 2016, I launched a grass roots Womxn’s Network at the company. My goal was to create the space to have all of those much needed yet missing conversations, find peers, paths for growth, and find a way to galvanize and thrive from that elusive ‘strength in numbers’ support mechanism.

I went to HR, explained my objectives about starting an employee resource group (ERG) and got their full support. I got an annual budget for external speakers and partnered with the corporate marketing team at the company’s global kick off to ensure we got the visibility and the airtime we needed.  As the ERG grew, we started partnering with other ERGs in the company, such as the Black Employees and Allies United, as well as ERGs in some of our customer organizations. It’s tremendously powerful as learning flows both ways and different ERGs can learn so much from each other.

Today, we have more than 100 members globally. We have a mixture of both online and face-to-face quarterly and annual networking events with some great external speakers for insight and inspiration. We have conducted speed networking sessions where you can speak to someone you wouldn’t normally work with, find out how they’ve tackled particular challenges, create stronger bonds and relationships, and seek advice on any subject – whether it’s work related or a personal matter. As Chair, I ensure these events are inclusive to all, including men and allies, who want to learn more or simply come and listen.

By now, most organizations today have formalized their DEI initiatives and have specific support to help women grow their careers. If your company doesn’t, you should be asking them and yourself why not.  It has become a barometer for the culture, mindset, and progressiveness of organizations today.

Likewise, if you’re interviewing for a position at a new company, do your research. How many women in leadership do they have? What ERGs or DEI initiatives are in place? Ask how they support personal and professional growth with regards to certifications, upskilling and ongoing learning. Lateral job moves can be just as important for your career and skillset as promotions. It’s important to find an organization that’s aligned to your values and what you seek in terms of personal and professional growth.

Diversity isn’t a tick box exercise, nor is it about an “us vs them” mindset, but rather inclusivity and equity.  The more diverse the workplace is, the more everyone can benefit in better understanding each other, and the business can succeed through diversity of thought. While women are not yet fully represented in C-level roles, we’re moving closer to the goal of equal representation. That will only continue to happen with these grass roots initiatives in place. ServiceMax has seen tremendous growth in women in leadership over the past several years and continues to work towards gender parity.

Success in diversity initiatives such as this will continue to prosper as long as the conversations continue to happen. The modern, successful workplace embraces and supports diversity.  If you don’t yet have this type of formalized support in your organization, seek it out. If it doesn’t exist, create it. If you need guidance, reach out to your network or join an external women’s network where these discussions are occurring daily.