If you're in charge of a women's network for your company, don't be surprised if Victoria Waterman comes knocking at your door.
At many large companies, volunteer groups set up networking and mentoring services for female employees, bring in speakers and do their best to level the playing field for women who want to move ahead as fast as their male counterparts.
Waterman, of Rhode Island-based Leading Women, says her company can take the burden off those volunteers and help the groups succeed.
Leading Women, which works with companies like Pfizer and Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Rhode Island, is starting a new branch in Central Massachusetts. Waterman is reaching out to large companies in the area, and the company held its first official networking event in the area last month.
Waterman said Leading Women helps the women's networks organize themselves and provides them with speakers and programs. That relieves some pressure on volunteers who also have high-pressure full-time jobs, she said.
"It's overwhelming," Waterman said. "To bring good programming to an organization is really challenging, because the last thing you want the organization to be known as is a social group."
Waterman said one of the company's priorities is to make sure its programming fits the real needs of women. She said studies show that women typically have good interpersonal skills and professionalism, so her company doesn't focus on that. Instead, it concentrates on networking skills and other areas where the organization finds women typically lag behind men.
Erin Motameni, senior vice president of human resources at EMC Corp. in Hopkinton, said she hadn't heard of Leading Women, but she can easily see how their services could be helpful to some companies. She said volunteers with EMC's Women's Leadership Forum have to work hard to provide networking and career development programs to the company's female employees. But because of the data storage company's huge size, she said, it is able to organize all the work through a system of subcommittees and rotate leadership responsibilities to minimize burnout.
Motameni said the services like those Leading Women provides might make sense for many companies.
"It seems like certainly a smaller company that might not have the same infrastructure or the same pool to pull on in terms of talent within the organization, it seems like that could save a lot of work," she said.
Kim Beauchamp, a principal and head of the two-year-old Women's Initiative Group at the accounting firm of CCR LLP in Westborough, agreed that it could be helpful to get some outside assistance with programming. She said it took quite a bit of research to figure out what areas to focus on. While that was a good experience for the group's members in some ways, she said it was also a great deal of work.
"In a lot of ways I think it would be nice to have somebody outside who would come in with the ideas," she said.