ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Pros and cons of women’s networks up for debate

Ahead of this month’s YML debate on women’s networks, London Accountant caught up with Walgreens Boots Alliance board member Jan Babiak, one of the speakers at the event, to learn about the good and bad of such groups.

Jan Babiak

March 2019

On 18 March, Jan Babiak will share the stage with three other key note speakers at the London debate on whether women’s networks are beneficial or detrimental to the working environment. Her own answer, based on many years in the workplace, including 28 years at Big Four firm EY, is quite clear.

“Both,” she says. “Like anything else, it depends on how the networks are set up, the financial backing they receive, the support they get from leadership and how they are used.”

Babiak admits that over the first half of her career she tended to steer clear of such groups and related events as she didn’t feel they were relevant to her. “This has more to do with their purpose and the progress that they make, so that they are not viewed as a vanity project, or for someone to tick a box,” she argues. “Networks need to be meaningful and intentional, constantly evaluated.”

Babiak currently sits on the boards of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Euromoney Institutional Investor and Bank of Montreal, having left EY to pursue a portfolio career at the end of 2009. Now based in Nashville, Tennessee, after 20 years in London, she has also served on the boards of Royal Mail and Logica, now part of CGI, and has been co-opted on to the ICAEW Council since 2010.

On two occasions she has, however, instigated the creation of a women’s network, once at EY in response to comments over the number of women partners at the firm, and the second after she had relocated to Nashville. “I spoke with several companies in the City about what can work, and what doesn’t work, with their own networks, and one of the key lessons is that you need strong and authentic top-level sponsorship if you are to succeed,” Babiak explains.

“You also need to separate lifestyle issues from women’s issues,” she continues. “For instance, I would move everything about parenting and care giving out of the women’s networks into a separate group, as this would allow men to feel able to participate in such discussions as well.”

But will there ever be no need for women’s networks? “It will be some decades,” Babiak says. “We are in the foothills of a journey that will bring us to the top of the mountain that we need to climb for a better society.”

Join Jan Babiak, Deloitte’s Emma Codd, consultant Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, and EY associate director Harry Queenborough at Chartered Accountants Hall on 18 March 2019 for the debate Women’s Networks – do they work?

Liked this? Read these:

London Accountant

Go to London Accountant for more features, news and opinion.
Follow us on Twitter @ICAEW_London and join us on LinkedIn: LSCA and Croydon.
Subscribe to ‘regional updates’ to receive more articles.