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The Benefits of Cultivating a Community

By Marie-Claude Lamothe, Senior Human Resources Business Partner, Akamai Technologies Inc.

We’ve all heard about the importance of diversity in the workplace and the challenges of attracting women to careers in technology. We know that greater diversity can improve innovation and productivity. At Akamai, one of our core values is collaboration and teamwork: We achieve success by bringing together the skills and ideas of all of our colleagues. Through collaboration, we strive for resolutions to issues and problems that benefit all involved. Focusing on customers’ needs helps us work cooperatively toward a common objective.

An important effort that speaks directly to this core value is the Akamai Women’s Forum. Here’s how it started and continues to grow, from Bhuvana Husain, director of programs and operations at Akamai and the leader of this group.

Grassroots Initiative

“The Women’s Forum started as an employee-led effort in the summer of 2011—it was really a grassroots idea. A group of passionate volunteers decided to build a community so women at Akamai could discuss professional challenges, seek and share advice and exchange best practices. Our goal from the start was to set up this community to help recruit, retain and develop more talented women at Akamai. We partnered closely with HR to ensure we aligned with their goals, and added more and more members to our group. We started with only a few dozen women in the forum, and now there are hundreds of women from our offices around the world involved in this global community.”

Greater Visibility and Impact

“We’ve hosted a number of events at Akamai as well as participated as a group in external events. Internally, we’ve held workshops, seminars and panel discussions. These have covered a variety of topics, from technical system overviews to negotiation techniques. Externally, we’ve sponsored several large events like the Massachusetts Conference for Women, the Lead On Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women, and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. We are also working on outreach efforts, and have partnered with organizations such as Girls Who Code, the Girl Scouts, and the Brookview House in Boston.”

Lessons Learned

“We’ve learned a few lessons along the way. One is to tailor our approach for each geography. With Akamai having employees around the world, it’s been important for us to recognize that demographics, interest and readiness for this type of initiative vary from office to office. Another lesson we’ve learned is to harness the power of the members of the community. We have brought together people who are passionate about a shared topic and bring different perspectives to the table; by doing so, the whole has become greater than a sum of the parts. The final lesson I’ll mention is to distribute and recognize leadership at multiple levels. Within our community, we’ve given people space to get out of their comfort zones and lead programs; this has helped participants develop a new set of skills. Leadership at the executive level in the form of sponsorship and advocacy has also been extremely valuable at Akamai.”

Next Steps

“Ever since we started this initiative four years ago, we’ve seen an increase in employee engagement with the creation and growth of the Akamai Women’s Forum, and now we’re taking that model and applying it to other employee populations. We’ve launched an effort to create more employee resource groups so that others can help bring in more diverse talent, build connections to retain diverse employees, and assist each other with professional and personal growth. We believe that Akamai will become even more successful and innovative as a company with more community–building efforts and employee engagement.”

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