Image of Lisa Gilkes with Dame Laura Kenny, Olympic Cyclist

In conversation with: GE’s Lisa Gilkes

Written by Sally-Anne Rogers

Global Customer Quality & Satisfaction Leader

Co-leader GE Women’s Network – Renewable Energy UK&I

As part of our ‘sharing knowledge’ outreach offering, Gemma was invited to talk to General Electric’s (GEs) Women’s Network. She focussed on issues many women face balancing their family and career alongside financial planning, also explaining the various financial benefits GE offered its staff. We asked the Group’s Co-leader, Lisa Gilkes, to tell us why she believes supporting women at work is so important.

What inspired you take on the co-leadership role of GE’s Women’s Network?

In 2017, the GE Women’s Network was established on the site where I worked. I was excited and energised that the organisation recognised the need to support the development of women, particularly as we wanted to increase diversity at our site, which at the time was 80% male versus 20% female.

That same year I formed part of a programme for future leaders across Europe; this gave me access to fellow colleagues across the GE businesses, along with a ‘bubble assignment’ in GE’s Healthcare Division. This opened my eyes to the contacts you could develop, along with the possibilities of cross-function interaction and career development opportunities.

“Inclusion, Diversity and Equality is important to me and my co-leadership role of the GE Women’s Network Renewable Energy UK&I allows me to support the improvement of gender within the organisation.”

‘Go for it!’

During 2018, on the back of my Leadership Programme experience, I offered to organise an event on ‘Networking’ as I felt this was lacking within our organisation. I’d moved between businesses and believed organising a Speed Networking event (get to know your colleague) would be of great benefit; from here on I found myself part of the committee.

By the middle of 2018, there’d been a change of committee personnel, including the leadership, and the Network stalled. When I approached the director of HR saying I’d like to revive it, her response was ‘go for it’. 

Lisa Gilkes presenting a seminar

Communication, Confidence & Leadership

I felt there should be a focus on communication, confidence and leadership. I’d noticed many of my female counterparts lacked confidence which impacted their ability to communicate and lead effectively. So, I rallied round my newly acquired network of contacts looking for speakers who could present on these core skills.

I discovered a group of GE women working in the commercial arena of our business. They told me about a RADA course they’d undertaken which provided a toolkit to become credible leader with presence and the positive impact it had on these skill sets. When asked if they would consider putting a similar event together, they jumped at the opportunity.

A Credible Presence

In January 2019, I became the Network’s leader and kicked off the event calendar with a two hour, female only, Credible Presence – it was roaring success! Several women came forward, including a young woman who’d experienced a lifechanging moment. By mid-2019, she’d become my Co-leader and we formed a new committee. 

Audience clapping
Credit: Getty

Are men invited to join the sessions?

Yes, our events are open to all and we regularly have around 50/50 male/female attendance.

After all, men have mothers, wives, daughters, nieces, granddaughters, god-daughters, etc, and we want and need them to be part of the gender diversity conversations, as well as advocates for the Network to help achieve diversity and equity.  

Achieving visibility

Our vision was to achieve visibility for the Women’s Network by running a series of diverse events using our contacts. We ran 14 in total, one included and informal talk with Dame Laura Kenny; all but one were open to both men and women. These included Roundtables, Lunch & Learn sessions, Branding & Confident Communication, along with quizzes for International Women and Men’s days. 

Image of Lisa Gilkes with Dame Laura Kenny, Olympic Cyclist
GE Women’s Network Event – November 2022 with Dame Laura Kenny, Olympic Cyclist Photo Credit: Wojciech Kopec

We presented to our local business leaders offering amusing but sobering facts to highlight the importance of gender diversity and delivered a ‘Myth Busting’ session during Engineering Week. Even in 2020, we were able to deliver a full calendar of events with extremely high engagement.

A man co-leading a women’s networking group?

This is true. In 2021, Mark Wilson joined us as Co-leader – his support adds a further dimension to the Network and reinforces that men play a role in supporting gender diversity, equality and equity. Since it’s conception, the Network has gone from strength to strength, creating a strategic plan and roadmap and connecting events to the strategy.

What benefits do you believe it brings to the group’s members?

The purpose of the Women’s Network is to empower, energise and elevate women. We aim to do this by:

  • Providing opportunities to develop key core skills – confidence, communication and leadership – to help women grow their skill sets;
  • Creating opportunities to expand networks and build relationships and showcase our female talent;
  • Communicating and educating why gender diversity is everyone’s responsibility;
  • Identifying and engaging with influential allies and advocates of gender diversity, inclusion in equity.

And we do these through the events that we deliver. 

We’ve delivered a wide range of events over the past four years ensuring they were connected to our purpose and strategy, but delivered in educational, fun, practical ways. We also ensure we give the opportunity for open and meaningful discussions around diversity, equality and equity. 

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