#ThrowbackThursday HERstory: Meet the Women Behind Zebra’s First Inclusion Network
Find out why the Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN) has proved to be such a winning concept for global employee engagement.
With Women’s History Month in full swing, we wanted to honor all of the women who, three years ago, launched a grassroots initiative to build an advocacy program for women within Zebra Nation.
At the time, they were just aiming to start a conversation about how to overcome gender inequality and improve the overall workplace culture within the tech sector on a broad scale. Yet, this single action led to a stronger call for action which Zebra heard loud and clear. Within months, Zebra announced a number of Inclusion & Diversity initiatives and formed the company’s first official inclusion network: the Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN).
Jennifer Springer and Natalie Bodus, who were appointed WIN chairpersons in early 2019, were gracious enough to fill us in on the progress WIN has made since 2017 and how they plan to expand their advocacy efforts moving forward to ensure all women have access to the education, support and other resources they need to thrive personally and professionally.
Your Edge Blog Team: Even though WIN was the first Zebra Inclusion Network to launch, you weren’t necessarily striving for such a formal program originally. What ultimately compelled you and the others to launch this initiative on a global scale?
Jennifer: Although women make up nearly half (46.9 percent) of the total workforce in the U.S., they held only a quarter of tech jobs in 2018. To make matters worse, a report by the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) found that the turnover rate for women in the tech industry is 41 percent, compared to just 17 percent for men. Based on what we’ve heard in speaking with other women, they really just don’t feel like they’re getting the support they need to succeed. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with technical skills or experience. They just need someone to advocate for them more, to make them feel valued and included.
Natalie: Jennifer’s right. In fact, WIN came about quite organically. The initial germination of a women’s network at Zebra was in mid-to-late 2017 when a group of women from both Zebra and local companies came together for a networking event in the Zebra Experience Center at our headquarters in Lincolnshire, Illinois. That event spurred a small group of women to come together to discuss some of the imbalances in gender diversity within the leadership levels at Zebra and inequities inherent in the workplace today on a broader scale. Discussions started shifting toward ways in which a more formal group could be established to ensure all women within Zebra had equal access to the resources and support we were starting to offer in a more localized fashion.
Your Edge Blog Team: Those conversations were the drivers behind WIN’s formation, then?
Jennifer: Yes. We were committed to creating a network of women who could help support and advocate for one another, and so were Zebra’s leaders. We were very excited when it was announced in early 2018 that WIN would be Zebra’s first company-wide inclusion network and that we would conduct an annual WIN survey to ensure women working within the company could be heard and properly supported during their careers here.
Your Edge Blog Team: Did your mission change at all once this grassroots initiative became more formalized?
Jennifer: I wouldn’t say it changed, necessarily. It did expand though. While we started off with a goal of facilitating meaningful conversation, we found it more feasible to follow through with meaningful action.
Natalie: I agree. Our mission has always been to “connect, develop, and advocate for women by focusing on inspiring a culture of inclusion, diversity, innovation and leadership.” The first full year of WIN was spent on building a solid foundation – discussions on what gender equity means, teaching critical tools to help women propel forward and sessions with women in leadership roles to understand the evolution of their career journeys. However, our aim more recently has been to create a program that can span geographies and scale up or down, depending on the size of the audience.
We’re really focused now on facilitating positive networking that aids with personal and professional development and promoting self-advocacy and growth within the workplace.
Your Edge Blog Team: What types of resources does WIN offer to its members?
Jennifer: Many of our programs target a few crucial areas where women across the world and at all levels of their careers see room for growth – those cornerstones necessary for progression in the workplace. For example, we’re really focused on offering programs, creating resources and connecting members to experts to help them build and leverage networks first and foremost and then ultimately self-market and self-advocate.
We’re actually piloting a Mentoring Circle program right now which is designed to bring clusters of women together to help grow and develop talent and create critical connections with senior leaders. And, in 2019, we started hosting Executive Dinners where women who are earlier in their careers get a chance to have a meal with Zebra’s executive leaders. This has proved super helpful in establishing visibility and building a personal brand. It also gives the younger women some personal time to learn how our leaders’ own career paths have evolved. Not everyone has been on the same journey. We’re hoping to grow this program out more extensively this year due to its early success.
Natalie: WIN members also have exclusive opportunities to test their capabilities and build their leadership portfolio via the organization. For example, members can volunteer to organize a large WIN event, even if they don’t have any previous experience. This gives them a chance to flex skills that they might not have a chance to display in their day-to-day jobs.
Your Edge Blog Team: How frequently do you engage WIN members via official Zebra-sponsored programs?
Jennifer: WIN members come together for regular lunch discussions, monthly calls and annual Women’s Month celebrations each March. We also try to host meaningful events once a quarter – things that are tied to our core mission while speaking to topics women care about based on what we know intuitively and what we have learned about through the annual WIN survey. For example, we will be co-hosting a “Dismantling Gender Stereotypes” event in April with the Zebra Equality Alliance (ZEAL) and Zebras of African Descent (ZAD) inclusion networks. This global event will be live casted and recorded for viewing sessions in each region. Last month we co-sponsored an Inclusion and Diversity-themed discussion with the ZAD, ZEAL and Veterans’ Inclusion Network (VETZ) teams entitled “Success is a Moving Target.” It featured a discussion with NFL Defensive Lineman Eric Lee while he was with Zebra for his externship.
Natalie: We also hosted several events in 2019 on both a global and local level, including a Life Balance event with Kathleen Byars, CEO and Founder, Corporate Women Unleashed, in October 2019 and a WIN Week of Action. In Q4 alone, discussions were held around the world on authenticity in the workplace (Brno, Bourne End), networking (Preston), gender violence and homelessness issues for women and their children (Colombia and Mexico). The WIN team in Brno shared “female career stories” and there were talks from key women leaders on topics like influencing/networking (Shanthi Ravindran, Principal Architect @ Motorola Solutions, Singapore) and unconscious bias in hiring and recruitment (Bruna Maia, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Facebook, Brazil). We even held Women’s Health Screenings as well as Cancer Awareness and Breast Exam tutorials in Malaysia, Argentina, Mexico and China in Q4 2019.
Your Edge Blog Team: What did you do for International Women’s Day (IWD) 2020?
Jennifer: We celebrated under the IWD theme #EachForEqual. Some events around the world included recognizing the inspiring women in our work and in our personal lives as well as honoring the accomplishments and contributions of women and the history of women’s rights. We also hosted “Women in History” trivia, “Women in Leadership” storytelling and a unique Wonder Women Behind Zebra Men series, which gave our male allies the opportunity to recognize the achievements of the women in their lives.
Your Edge Blog Team: Do you have to be a member of WIN to benefit from its offerings?
Natalie: While we encourage people to become “members” of WIN, it isn’t mandatory to participate in our events or our programs. We try to encourage everyone to participate, including and especially our male allies.
Your Edge Blog Team: Are people surprised when they learn that there are men supporting and involved with a women’s network?
Jennifer: Sometimes, but given Zebra’s emphasis on “Inclusion and Diversity,” we have made it a point to ensure anyone and everyone feels welcome to participate in our inclusion networks, including employees who identify with the network's particular population, allies and individuals seeking to gain more knowledge.
Your Edge Blog Team: How has WIN engaged with community organizations to solicit support or provide support to other professional women?
Natalie: We are always exploring new ways to leverage existing networks such as ChickTech and Grace Hopper as well. We’re working on formalizing our action plan with other organizations and networks.
Jennifer: In the meantime, we’ve worked with some of our customers and partners when the right opportunities have presented themselves to host events and network. For example, we’ve collaborated with FedEx’s Women in Leadership organization, and we partnered with CDW to bring to life the “Serving as an Ally” event, which featured a panel of (mostly male) experts who shared insights into how they were able to lead extremely diverse and inclusive teams.
Your Edge Blog Team: That sounds like an interesting event.
Jennifer: It was! Zebra’s own Mike Terzich moderated the discussion and panelists shared personal stories about how they had to recognize their own biases. They also detailed some of the biases they learned that they had as well as the biases they found and addressed in their teams using a number of different behavior modifications and coaching techniques. They also noted the types of business practices they had to evolve in order to create a more supportive environment for women to thrive in.
Your Edge Blog Team: Why do you think WIN has been so successful?
Jennifer: There is an executive leadership sponsor with chapter leads in each office to provide guidance and resources, which really helps us execute a global program with immense local relevance. We appreciate that the cultural diversity of each region, country and city directly influences the culture of Zebra’s individual offices around the world. We want women to be able to garner the support they need within the framework of their traditions and cultural practices, and the only way to do that is by giving them some level of autonomy when it comes to the execution of WIN programming.
Your Edge Blog Team: To your credit, Zebra has used WIN as a model for the other inclusion networks it has launched in recent months, including the Zebra Equality Alliance (ZEAL), the Veterans’ Inclusion Network (VETZ) and Zebras of African Descent (ZAD), among others. Will the learnings gained from WIN’s development ultimately give others the know-how momentum they need to fulfill their mission and create a more diverse and inclusive culture within Zebra?
Natalie: I believe that WIN has created a model for possibility. Sometimes knowing that something can be done by seeing it done (successfully) is the only thing that people need to take action themselves. I also think that WIN has helped create a pathway for the other Inclusion Groups to follow as they get started. We have been able to share resources and tools – like the best tool to host a large global meeting or the best survey tool – in order to achieve our shared goal, which is Inclusion and Diversity.
Your Edge Blog Team: What advice would you give to others who want to start similar employee resource groups within their organizations?
Natalie: My advice would be two-fold. First, find your passion. What do you care about the most? This is the thing that will carry you forward and drive what you do. Secondly, define a few realistic goals to achieve. Do you want to first build a small community of 10 people? Do you want to establish awareness? Start with realistic goals, build some momentum and go from there.
You can read more about Zebra’s Inclusion and Diversity initiatives in these blog posts:
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