By all accounts, 2018 was a year of reckoning for women’s equality in the workplace. From #MeToo to #TimesUp and myriad discussions around pay equity, unconscious bias, gender parity and more, 2018 broke open the proverbial crack for the light to finally shine through. It was a year to acknowledge, reflect – and ultimately, act – to ensure women can lead and succeed.

That goes for us here at Edelman too, as we looked to progress our efforts around our Global Women’s Executive Network (GWEN). GWEN was established by our president and CEO Richard Edelman in 2011 with a clear objective to advance women into leadership positions at Edelman.

With that achievement in sight – and recognizing that it was imperative to ramp up our efforts to champion women in the workplace in light of the events over the last year – we formed a working group with a select group of employees from all levels, in all regions, to discuss GWEN’s evolution. Together, we updated our strategy to focus on providing opportunities, access and growth for women across all career levels at Edelman.

Today, I’m proud to introduce GWEN’s transition to the Global Women’s Equality Network, with a refreshed mission to continue to foster an environment that is both safe and conducive for women of all backgrounds to enjoy equal opportunity to grow, lead and succeed in and beyond Edelman. The new GWEN will stand for a global community that is passionate about, and committed to, ensuring women feel motivated and empowered to strive for, and become, company and industry leaders. It will enable networking and mentorship, encourage advocacy and sponsorship, provide learning opportunities, help to recruit and retain employees, and ultimately provide business and cultural value.

Through our updated strategy, GWEN will also take a stand on diversity and inclusion centered around women’s empowerment, which is more important today than ever before. Today’s social climate demands companies and organizations shine a light on inequality of all kinds and rise up to make changes to positively impact their employees. As we ask our clients to act with certainty, we too will continue to lead by example in a positive way.

Just a few of GWEN’s specific initiatives will include:

  • Operating global mentorship programs in addition to hosting local and global GWEN events across our network.
  • Conducting a global pay analysis in partnership with an external data analysis partner every other year to ensure equal pay for equal work.
  • Including both male and female candidates for all senior level roles, ensuring gender balance among interviewers for all roles, and providing greater transparency around internal career opportunities throughout the network.
  • Implementing a “GWEN4All” initiative to encourage everyone at Edelman to get more actively involved with GWEN, and ensure programming reflects the fact that the GWEN community is inclusive regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or belief.
  • Partnering with external organizations, including the International Women’s Forum, G(irls)20 and United for News, to make an even broader impact. We recently also signed on to the United Nations We Empowerment Principles to promote economic empowerment of women at work through responsible business conduct in G7 countries.

For companies that already have internal programs to champion diversity and inclusion, it’s never a bad idea to re-evaluate those efforts to make them even more relevant and meaningful. And if your employer doesn’t have a program in place yet, make 2019 your year to start one – no matter how small. Here are some key tips for success:

Ensure you have senior-buy in: Having the support and encouragement of your senior team is essential to ensure women’s empowerment programs come to fruition. I am so fortunate to work for a company that continuously champions a positive environment for women, and would be remiss in not thanking Richard Edelman, along with Matt Harrington, our global chief operating officer, for embracing this pivot and helping to move the new GWEN forward.

Project manage and track progress: Programs must have the infrastructure and resources available to develop the right strategy, ensure alignment across the organization, and execute effective programming. Once the framework is in place, it’s important to set specific targets and track progress as you would any other business imperative.

Communicate progress – and setbacks: Along with communicating progress with your team, it’s important to acknowledge challenges and how they will be addressed, too. When GWEN began, the original goal was to achieve gender parity by 2016 – and when that didn’t happen, Richard Edelman addressed it openly and honestly – with a clear plan of action to get back on track. Former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama said in her book, Becoming: “I’ve been lucky enough now in my life to meet all sorts of extraordinary and accomplished people. … What I’ve learned is this: All of them have had doubters.”

While it may be impossible to avoid all the doubters along our career journey – and while it’s important to be proactive in asking for what we want -- imagine where even more of us could be if there were far more supporters along our path. It’s up to all of us to ensure we’re creating an environment where women can become their best. I’m so proud of all the work our incredible team has accomplished to bring our refreshed Global Women’s Equality Network to fruition. Let’s get started.

Lisa Kimmel is president and CEO of Edelman Canada and global chair of Edelman’s Global Women’s Equality Network.