Diversity and inclusion in the workplace have become particularly topical over the past few years, with conversations being geared towards how to build more equitable, representative workforces.

Part of these critical discussions involves gender diversity and more specifically, how to empower women and provide them with the support they need to succeed in their careers. One strategy used in achieving these aims is the establishment of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) – an initiative Mediclinic Southern Africa has recently undertaken with the launch of its Women Advancement Network (WAN).

Commenting on how the establishment of a gender-specific ERG will contribute towards helping Mediclinic meet its broader transformation objectives is Dr Natalie Hobbs, Care Coordination Development Specialist. As head of Mediclinic’s WAN, she believes that the network will provide a strong foundation to build a truly collaborative organisation.

As she explains: “Real transformation must produce tangible results both from the top down and from the bottom up. Regarding gender, what this means is that women need to be represented at every level, from senior leadership to entry-level positions.

The WAN also gives us the platform for launching important initiatives such as training and development, knowledge and skills transfer as well as open forums for discussion. There are no people in a better position to effect change than the women whose lives and livelihoods are directly impacted by our decisions and policies as a business.”

Minding the gap: the need for better gender representation

Despite several fundamental shifts in the way workplaces are structured and the way in which talent is nurtured, the prevailing gender gap continues to undermine the prospect of building teams that are truly diverse. A 2020 study conducted by PwC, for example, found that only a quarter of recent executive appointments within the JSE's Top 100 companies were women. The study also found that only seven of those leading companies are being led by women CEOs. Furthermore, under 27% of directorship positions at JSE-listed entities are held by women.

The establishment of ERGs is recognised as one of the most proactive and effective ways in which organisations can create working environments based on the principles of equality and fairness. Also known as employee networks and affinity groups, ERGs are currently used in 90% of Fortune 500 companies and have gained significant ground in terms of promoting diversity and inclusion.

Catalysts for conversation: ERGs as a way of gathering different perspectives.

As Dr Hobbs explains, there are various benefits that can be derived from initiatives like Mediclinic’s WAN. The first of these is the role that ERGs of this nature play in promoting positive workplace cultures. “Individuals in an ERG share a commonality, such as age, gender or race. This commonality is the glue that binds those individuals together and provides for a single point of departure. From that starting point, we can explore and understand our differences in background, experience and abilities.

This allows us to invite a broad range of perspectives to contribute to meaningful discussions and debate. It allows us to weave together a collective of varied opinions and insights, unlocking solutions relevant to what is happening on the ground. ERGs are therefore containers of shared commonalities as well as a hotbed of diversity – this balanced environment is where real change can start.”

The role of ERGs in training and professional development

Another key benefit of ERGs is their ability to fuel drives that can help women progress in their professional careers. Currently, 74% of Mediclinic Southern Africa’s workforce consists of women, regarded by the leadership team as human assets who deserve self-fulfillment and job satisfaction. A recent survey indicated that many of Mediclinic’s women employees are actively seeking opportunities for mentoring and networking.

The WAN can answer this need for empowerment by bringing together women who can share their experiences with their peers and provide much-needed guidance and advice on how to build a fruitful career in healthcare. “The most effective way to succeed is by learning from those who have gone before you – those who have chartered a path for you, whose footsteps you can follow. An ERG like the WAN will provide women with access to the resources they need to thrive. At Mediclinic, learning support is a priority,” says Dr Hobbs.

From the inside out

In addition, as she explains, as much as ERGs can have a positive influence on the internal affairs of an organisation, they can also become bastions of hope and upliftment within their external communities. As microcosms of broader society, workplaces represent real people, facing real challenges and needing specific kinds of support.

As Dr Hobbs concludes: “Our vision for the WAN is to have both an internal and external impact. We will realise this vision by participating in community drives and initiatives that are geared towards empowering women. A good example of this is the gender-based violence campaign within our Western Cape-based hospitals, which gave us a platform for providing survivors of GBV with healthcare support and resources.

As we focus on growing this network, we hope to share our experiences as a business with other healthcare industry stakeholders and role-players. We hope to be a beacon of light within our sector and our individual communities and to demonstrate that change begins right here, right now, with the people who matter the most.”

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.