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Creating women’s groups can promote diversity

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NEW YORK —Forming a business resource group within a company takes work, but it can lead to greater diversity, a panel of executives said Tuesday during Business Insurance’s 2016 Women to Watch Conference in New York.

Nancy Mellard, Kansas City, Missouri-based executive vice president and general counsel for the benefits and insurance services division of CBIZ Inc., moderated the discussion about allies and advocacy. Ms. Mellard, who leads CBIZ Women’s Advantage program, said that 10 years ago, the chairman and CEO of her company had asked her to start a women’s program.

“It was an honor to be asked,” she said. “I feel like I’m living my legacy, not leaving it, not trying to build it. I’m living it.”

Kathleen Ziegler, senior vice president, transformation office, at American International Group Inc., said groups can help break down walls within a company. 

“There are things that happen immediately after establishing a group of any kind,” Ms. Ziegler said “Networking is the first. You don’t fully appreciate what networking can do, but I’ve seen it at all different levels. Once you get to know someone on a personal basis you are less intimidated and that translates into so many benefits. We have seen that these groups become powerful recruiting tools.”
 
Ms. Ziegler also said don’t try to make the group “perfect out of the gate.”

“I think the important thing is to get something going,” she said. “If you don’t have a program, that would be my advice.”

“If you don’t have a program it’s not too late,” said Pam Carpenter, chief operating officer of national accounts at Travelers Cos. Inc. “We saw success day one.” 

Ms. Carpenter also said that high-level support for such groups is vital.

“I think it really starts at the top,” she said. “We’ve heard from our CEO that diversity is a business imperative. I think you have to have that level of commitment.”

Kim Waller, executive vice president at Willis Towers Watson P.L.C. in Chicago, stressed the importance of integrating clients into a group’s activities.

“So that it brings an additional level of depth to what we’re doing,” said Ms. Waller, co-leader of Willis Towers Watson Diversity Solutions, “and awareness around how we’re driving results as a women’s resource group to our clients.”

Ms. Waller also recommended to “always, always, always — whatever you’re going to do — make sure you connect the dots back to why this is relevant to the business.”

Shelley Yim, commercial risk brokerage leader with Aon P.L.C. in San Francisco, also stressed the importance of resource groups as recruitment tools.

“When you look at young women and young men,” she said, “they want to see what is possible for me, what is this company doing to promote smart, capable women and minorities.”

Ms. Mellard encouraged women to work within the leadership of their companies and say “we could so much better.”

“It’s not HR telling them,” she said, “but the women who are truly committed to the company, who have the passion to grow the company, and say we can do better. Let’s be advocates, let’s be outspoken in the right way to say, ‘Why don’t we have more women?’”