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HR women’s network offers real-life solutions to workplace challenges 

By Stephanie Davis | Photo by Thomas Skernivitz

Women representing every industry from banking to manufacturing to education to technology mix and mingle freely at least once a quarter thanks to a common-denominator bond – each is a leader in a human resources role within her respective industry. Leaders include HR managers, HR generalists, directors, and VPs of HR.

What brings these leaders together at least four times a year? A group called Executive HR Women’s Network, founded in 2006 by women’s business Staffing Solutions Enterprises CEO Carmella Calta and President SueAnn Naso.

“Executive HR Women’s Network really has women in almost every sector represented,” Marketing Coordinator Jessica Morris says. “All of them have extensive experience in HR. Any woman in a leadership role in HR actually can join because the events involve discussion of strategy and addressing workplace challenges.”

The Network’s primary raison d’être is to host local events that promote professional development, address relevant HR issues and topics, and offer opportunities to network with other women in HR. Its membership, which started with 30 in 2006, is at 160 now.

“In 2006 the thought was, ‘Let’s get this group of women together and get to know each other.’ It obviously evolved from there,” Morris says. 

Everyone from young professionals in leadership positions to executives with 40 years of experience comprise the group. “Often the seasoned professionals mentor the young professionals,” Morris says.

The network’s events are typically held once a quarter, focusing on professional seminars, panelist discussions, breakfast and after-hours networking events, events at local venues such as Cleveland Botanical Gardens and Aloft hotel, and lunch-and-learns.

Often events are small by design so the network can break out and talk one-on-one about HR-related challenges and strategies; group events often consist of 30 to 40 attendees, with breakout tables of five to six guests each.

“The small groups then have a forum — a sounding board — and space to feel comfortable sharing,” Morris says. 

For example, Morris cites an event last May on engaging young professionals in the workplace that stirred up extensive input from the group.

“One of the challenges that people often address is how do you get young professionals to stay with your company,” Morris says. “And how do you get them engaged? How do you get them involved in volunteering and professional development? It turned out to be a great open discussion. So many people shared ideas and success stories, specifically addressing these issues and the bigger issue of how to get young people to stay in Cleveland.”

In 2006 the thought was, ‘Let’s get this group of women together and get to know each other.’ It obviously evolved from there.

For the most part, each of the networking group’s events, especially panel discussions, are complimentary to its members, thanks to a partnership with ERC. There may be cash bars or food for a small fee at events that are hosted at places such as Aloft. Overall costs are minimal, however.

One of the distinguishing features of the networking is that the women are sharing real-life strategies.

For example, Morris says that after each event, the group conducts surveys. “We hear often, ‘This is a great takeaway that I want to do in my workplace.’ We are not offering theory at our events but real-life issues that we all face. This helps set us apart.”

Setbacks are discussed as well. “During a wellness event that we hosted, one company’s HR leader shared how her workplace started a new wellness program. But as they were establishing the program, they never talked to employees about the overall strategy and what would motivate them to participate. Once the program was rolled out, it was not as effective as intended because it wasn’t employee-driven. After surveying employees, the program was restructured and re-launched to give employees what they wanted and needed. The speaker shared the effects of that, offering lessons learned on how to handle such programs more effectively in the future,” she says.

Another distinctive characteristic of the group’s members is that beyond their holding leadership positions within HR, Morris says all members share a mutual appreciation for involvement outside the workplace. “These are professional women who make a difference in the workplace and community,” she says. Many are involved in other Cleveland-based groups, such as Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management, Engage! Cleveland, and various charitable organizations.

The next Executive HR Women’s Network event is scheduled for Oct. 10. Embracing social media in HR will be the focus of the breakfast panel discussion.

“We will have a panel of HR and marketing professionals address how to use social media in the workplace to attract and engage employees. We recognize that marketing and HR need to be working in tandem on this issue,” Morris says.

“We will discuss which channels work best to recruit talent. How can you use Facebook or Twitter to help your company grow and attract other talent to your company? What are you doing to improve your employment branding efforts? We also will share social media successes and challenges. The goal is to determine how we can harness this power to our advantage.” 

For more information: staffingsolutionsenterprises.com/about-us/our-story/executive-hr-womens-network

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