The Electronic Retailing Association’s new Industry Women’s Council will give women members increased networking opportunities while bolstering recruitment and retention efforts for the greater organization.
Women members of the Electronic Retailing Association now have a council of their own, thanks to the foresight of member Debbie Skerly, who saw a way to help ERA and her colleagues grow simultaneously.
Skerly, vice president of business development at a2b Fulfillment, helped found—and now lead—ERA’s Industry Women’s Council. The group helps women in the association learn, network, and share business leads. The council, which currently has 35 members, is designed for women of all ages and positions.
“[It] creates a niche opportunity for young women and new members to be inspired by the veterans of the industry and learn from their success,” Skerly said. “Also, it serves as a recruiting tool for the association to attract new women-owned businesses that might want to join and take part in the Industry Women’s Council, and share their own successes and best practices.”
Skerly came up with the idea after participating in small conferences and events for women connected through ERA, which represents direct-to-consumer retail, like online or TV shopping. She realized an internal council could fill an existing hole and then spoke with Jim Perrus, ERA’s vice president of membership and retention, during the group’s idea summit in February.
He took the idea to the board, which lead to its formal creation just months later, Skerly said. The council holds its inaugural gathering at ERA’s annual D2C Convention later this month.
Efforts to give women a bigger voice in associations—and by extension, various industries—are not new. In 2015, the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council partnered with Innovation Women to ensure female speakers had opportunities to share their experiences. Even earlier, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists launched a “Lean In Circle” for executives.
Other groups are working to ensure women obtain leadership roles within their industries or on their boards. Two journalism groups, for instance, partnered to develop a gender-specific academy, while the Association for Computing Machinery recently selected its first all-female board.
Still, there is work to be done. A 2015 study conducted by Harvard Business School’s Gender Initiative found that mothers are judged more heavily for leaving work early or late, thought to be either scrimping job duties for the family or ignoring the kids. Just this year, research showed that women are less comfortable asking for a raise than men.
As for Skerly’s new undertaking as chair of the ERA council, she says the mission is pretty straight forward.
“Our goal is to have a guest speaker at each meeting; someone that can both educate and inspire other members,” she said. “There are a number of very successful businesswomen within this very industry, and we hope they can come participate. It will be great for women to hear about both the struggles and the successes of women that have established themselves in this space.”