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Do you need funding for a women’s program in your business?

I’m often asked whether funding or a pre-approved budget is necessary to run a successful women’s program.  My short answer to this question is “yes”, and this is some of my reasoning:

  1. I’m sure you’ve all seen in your organisations or even in the community around you that those programs with the highest perceived value get funding. But have you also noticed that – in the action of approving funding – this also increases the perceived importance of the program? It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy.In my consulting work, I see the greatest resources allocated to those programs where the business has serious skin in the game – in the form of dollars. Once the dollars are approved and committed, there’s more of an imperative to ensure its success. So resources will be diverted away from those projects and programs that are perceived as less important (ie there’s no financial incentive to keep them rolling).You don’t want resources or importance diverted away from your women’s program. Securing funding will keep it on the radar, raise its perceived importance and ensure it has the appropriate business support to be a success.
  2. Securing funding will give you access to experts and facilitators who can help you derive more value from your program. It means the difference between someone getting the job of coordinating the program as an extra “special project” on top of their already busy schedule, and having a professional program facilitated by experts, who’s sole job is to make sure your program delivers on promised outcomes.If you were trying to fix systemic issues in your business by implementing a new software system, retraining all your staff or even implementing a customer satisfaction program, would you prefer to do it yourself or call on the experience of an expert? Which would deliver the best result?The same goes for addressing the significant gender imbalance and retention and development of women in many organisations. Securing a budget will help you engage the appropriate support and will deliver a better experience for everyone involved.
  3. It makes good business cents (and sense!) The cost of running programs to improve the sense of community, morale and skill development of women is not a significant investment, compared to the cost of losing female talent. Research by Harvard and Catalyst shows there’s a number of reasons why women’s programs are necessary, and explain why women typically have more difficulty accessing mentors and career advancement opportunities.Consider that the cost of replacing an experienced and skilled worker – in terms of recruitment cost, lost productivity, retraining costs and potential client leakage – can be as much as twice the incumbent’s annual salary. This is frequently so in professional services firms, where we know women enter in droves but drop off as they rise through the ranks. In these firms, it’s not unusual for a director or senior associate to earn $200k pa.Do you think that – if you were given $200k to spend on programs to promote understanding and advancement of women in your workplace – it could have some impact on reducing female turnover? Even if it prevented one senior woman from leaving the organisation, you’d be breaking even. It’s a no brainer. Just do the math to reflect your circumstances.

Increasingly I’m coming across women who, through their own initiative, have implemented brown bag lunches and after work activities to help build camaraderie amongst with female peers.  I’m not suggesting these initiatives are without value.  But put simply, they’ll never have the same perceived importance as a fully funded and professionally implemented program.  That’s just the way it is.

I’ve also been told about programs that have the “commitment” of management or partners, but no funding.  Well sorry ladies, but that’s not commitment.  Most partners in firms are more committed to their sports cars than they are to you!  They wouldn’t dream of driving their new Porsche or Beemer out of the yard without insurance, so why aren’t they insuring some of their most valuable income producing assets:  the women in their firms.  Your women’s program is the insurance, and funding is the diamond that seals the deal.  Otherwise – you guessed it – you’ll just be taking on another responsibility to manage on top of your already busy workload.

So what’s the key to securing funding for your program?  Build a compelling business case.  It’s as simple as that.  If you can show the value the program will derive, from the investment that’s made, you’ll have a watertight argument.

And if you need help in building your business case, drop me a line, I’ll be happy to help.  You might also benefit from the ARK conference in Melbourne on 11/12th August on Retaining and Advancing Women in Firms.  I’ll be running a workshop on formulating and positioning the business case for women’s initiatives programs in any business, which will give you everything you need to know to position your program for success!


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