March 8 is International Women’s Day—a celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But in addition to recognizing women’s achievements, the day also serves as a call to action for accelerating gender parity in the workplace.
Advancing women’s rights is often thought of as the purview of business leaders or the HR department, whether it’s creating pay equity programs or offering maternity leave benefits. But another important component of these efforts is the employees themselves—often, through employee resource groups, or ERGs. Made up of employees with shared experiences or characteristics who join together in the workplace, these groups create support systems within a company and can be a powerful source of change and advocacy.
Cornerstone’s own ERG for women, called Women at Cornerstone (W@C), is dedicated to lifting up the voices of female employees at the company. We spoke to Kelly Wenzel, the global lead for W@C who is based in the U.S., and Andrea Sennett, a member of the EMEA chapter, to discuss their experiences with the group and its differing global and localized approaches. We also spoke to them about the group’s plans to continue supporting women—now and into the future:
How does W@C approach the task of amplifying women’s voices and advocating for female employees at the company?
Kelly Wenzel: We try to listen more than we talk. Our mission at W@C is to engage, inspire and amplify women across Cornerstone. All of our programs are aligned to the feedback of our members focused on planning for ongoing growth of their careers, leveraging their strengths, closing the skill and knowledge gaps and most importantly building cross-functional networks.
The “listen-first” approach is especially important in fostering connection within our global chapters of W@C. How do we ensure our efforts are intersectional – not only in terms of race, gender, but cultural differences? How do we address the unique needs of our members across regions, functions and different levels of the business? We do it by listening first, then taking action to drive inclusivity and amplification of all Cornerstone employees.
Andrea Sennett: In the EMEA chapter of W@C, we’re going through some leadership changes. But this has helped us promote a culture that’s less hierarchical and, therefore, more capable of bringing in and highlighting the voices of many—rather than just a few. We hear from women at every level of the organization, and collect their experiences to inform the work and focus of our chapter.
We heard from Torin Ellis on a recent episode of the HR Labs Podcast that it’s critical for ERGs to be empowered to not only just be a support system, but also to take action on behalf of the community they represent. What are some of the ways W@C has taken action over the last year?
Kelly Wenzel: We worked with the Cornerstone Foundation to set up a partnership with the International Youth Foundation (IYF)—a non-profit organization that prepares young people to be healthy, productive, and engaged citizens—to raise money for their program, “Passport to Success.” For example, in 2020 we created W@C-branded tees and sweatshirts for employees to purchase through our online fundraisers and raised almost $5,000 to support IYF in creating more equitable talent pipelines for future generations.
Andrea Sennett: We’re also hosting more conversations to foster more connections internally. For example, Duane LaBom, Cornerstone’s Chief Diversity Officer, asked to sit down with the EMEA chapter of W@C for an open conversation. We talked about our experiences as women in the workplace. There were a lot of moments where people started realizing their shared challenges. It was the first time that we all acknowledged, actually, not everything in the garden is rosy, and that’s not because it’s not rosy at Cornerstone, it’s because it’s not rosy in life.
Kelly Wenzel: We’re also trying to promote and improve our efforts by working with other employee resource groups at Cornerstone. For example, we have Disability Visibility, Black Employee Alliance, Cornerstone Plus, Working Parents, LatinX, so many more. In doing so, we’re finding the power in numbers. It’s amazing what happens when we come together as one company to address the societal issues that impact our company—and any company for that matter.
The disproportionate effect that the pandemic had on working women has been well-documented. A startling number of working moms—especially Black and Latina individuals—have left the workforce or put their careers on hold due to the pandemic. What are Women at Cornerstone’s plan for supporting its female employees in the post-COVID world?
Kelly Wenzel: It is something that weighs heavily on me personally and across our members of W@C. Our goal is to ensure all of our programs honor the increased demands of our members and focused on providing a channel for investment back in themselves. We also want W@C to act as a safe space for female employees to discuss how they can foster an at-home support ecosystem with their partner. Women being able to stay engaged in work requires shared responsibility of childcare and virtual learning.
Lastly, we’re working to make sure that we act with compassion right now. I say that both as the lead of W@C, but also as a business leader. It’s critical to ensure we retain these employees, their skills, expertise and tenure.
Andrea Sennett: I also think that, to not only help keep women in the workplace but to support their growth within it, we need to encourage mentorship and coaching within these programs. This is a goal for our chapter of W@C. As a more tenured employee at the company, I want to help entry-level female employees assimilate into the workplace successfully and work with them to make sure that they are approaching certain issues—like pay equity—correctly and confidently.
#ChoosetoChallenge for International Women’s Day 2021
In recognition of International Women’s Day and its 2021 theme #ChoosetoChallenge gender bias and inequality, enjoy this video from Cornerstone employees across the globe as they share how they’re committing to creating a more inclusive world.