17 May 2023

Networks for women: “We help shape the Group’s corporate culture”

Reading time: 8 min.

Since its inception, the REWE Group women’s network f.ernetzt has grown significantly – both in the real world and online. Organiser Iris Nguyen talks about the growth of the network, what’s driving it now, and the forces shaping it for the future.

Franziska Halstrick

Head of Personnel Development Handel Deutschland

Iris, several female managers at REWE Group came up with the idea for f.ernetzt four years ago on the basis of the Women’s Drive personal development programme. How is the women’s network doing now?

Iris Nguyen: f.ernetzt is now open to all female employees, wherever they work and whatever their position. The network currently has 650 members from across the entire REWE Group, both in Germany and abroad. And more are signing up almost daily.

How do women learn about f.ernetzt?

Iris Nguyen: We’ve grown thanks to word of mouth among women, internal events where f.ernetzt is able to publicize itself, and – to be honest – the coronavirus. In June 2022, our network moved to the Teams platform, which everyone at the Group has been using since the start of the pandemic. This was a good move because since then participation has been much more active, with people posting more often and responding more quickly. This has resulted in a dialogue across sales lines.

After all, we are open to all women at REWE Group; our members come from all over Germany and from abroad.

Franziska Halstrick
Franziska Halstrick

What makes this platform so valuable?

Iris Nguyen: We are open to all women at the REWE Group, and our members come from all over Germany and from abroad. Teams allows members to attend events mainly online. This includes, for example, meet-ups, which are one-hour presentations with an opportunity to network and discuss various topics, such as part-time work or job sharing in managerial roles, agile work, conversations with female managers, returning to work following maternity leave, and balancing work and personal life.

So the network is virtual?

Iris Nguyen: No, not completely. We also meet in person once a year. At our last meeting at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, we were overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to attend. This shows how much people want to get to know one another in person, to network, and to learn new perspectives.

The last f.ernetzt event took place in Cologne at the Museum Ludwig.

Who chooses what’s up for discussion? Who decides, for example, what topics might be interesting for a meet-up?

Iris Nguyen: Previously, it was mainly us, the community managers, who chose the topics, which related to new ways of working, leadership, personal development, balancing a career with family, and so on.

And now?

Iris Nguyen: Now it’s no longer just us community managers coming up with ideas for topics: sometimes they come to us from outside the network, sometimes members offer to discuss a particular topic themselves. And that’s precisely how it should be. Increasingly, members themselves are sharing topics that are important to them, which provides them with support and, in turn, new ideas. In this way, a topic becomes a talking point.

But these aren’t “girls’ night” topics.

Iris Nguyen: No, at f.ernetzt we discuss work-related topics, not the latest trends in nail polish. For example, the network now has a book club. But we don’t discuss easy beach reads. Instead, the book club focuses on professional titles that allow members to choose, read about, and discuss professional topics together.

There are many topics with which the network has helped to further develop the corporate culture of REWE Group.

Franziska Halstrick
Franziska Halstrick

Was the idea for a book club initiated by members?

Iris Nguyen: Yes. We also share suggestions for films that members can see together at the cinema. Here, too, we’re not talking about the latest blockbuster, but rather films that address professional topics. A note about the film is posted online, then whoever wants to can make plans to see it. It’s been a big success.

In what ways can a network like yours help to shape a company’s culture?

Iris Nguyen: There are many areas where the network has helped to shape the REWE Group’s culture. Management, work-life balance, and professional topics related to personal development are some of these areas.

Here’s a good example. A colleague is currently developing a tool that will allow employees to give feedback to their managers. She received thoughts about the prototype via f.ernetzt. Our members provided her with feedback while simultaneously becoming familiar with a tool that many of them – once it was implemented – would be using. This sort of feedback culture is a good example of the culture-related topics that the network has helped to shape.

In what way?

Iris Nguyen: f.ernetzt has so many incredible women. And the fact that so many of them offered to help with this feedback tool showed me that they are willing to get involved and help shape the culture of the REWE Group.

Does the network see itself as more of a constructive voice rather than a critical one?

Iris Nguyen: f.ernetzt is not a network of unhappy women. On the contrary, they are very happy. You can see that in their commitment to the network. If they were unhappy, they would not be so involved. Or there would be a different tone. But the mood is quite positive and constructive. We don’t just sit around whinging about things!

It sounds quite positive.

Iris Nguyen: Of course, everyone knows that there is still quite a bit to be done when it comes to women in management. But everyone is willing to work toward supporting one another, and to share tips and tricks. Everyone needs to look forward and help shape the future of the REWE Group together.

The key idea is looking forward. How will the network develop in the future? What would you like to see happen for f.ernetzt?

Iris Nguyen: Of course, I would like to see the network continue to grow because it would be nothing without its members and their needs. I would like to see networking and dialogue across all sales lines become even more routine to further curb silo thinking. And I would like to see discussion topics “come into their own”. No one should have to ask permission to discuss a particular topic. If something is important to you, share it. If something inspires you, post it. If you have an idea, communicate it. I would like this already noticeable sense of initiative to become even stronger. After all, empowering female employees contributes to the culture of the REWE Group.

Does this empowerment include the creation of regional women’s networks?

Iris Nguyen: More and more regional women’s networks are being created. We maintain good contacts with them all, and some of them already have their own sub-channels on our Teams channel. For me, the initiative in the regions is a wonderful and important thing. Their strength is that they are close to the female employees and are able to create needs-based offerings, including on-site offerings. That means that we’re pulling together and contributing to our Group mission statement, which says, among other things:  We treat each other openly, with trust and respect. Our word is our bond!

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