In Good Company
How the Best Businesses Keep Their Best Women
By Judith L. Turnock
Executive and professional women have become familiar rolemodels, and their successes have grown on the solid foundation of education and experience. Overall, women’s rates of attaining college,masters and doctorate degrees have soared over the last 20 years, exceeding rates formen, and now women earn more than 40% of newMBAs and almost half of new law degrees. Today, women in the workforce fill more than 50% of managerial and professional positions.
All these women come to work with the same ambitions and expectations as men: rewarding compensation, intellectual challenges and the opportunity to advance based on their work. According to Catalyst, just as many women as men aspire to the CEOs lot. Why don’t more women realize their goals? This section will look closely into this all-too common problem, and will share helpful tips from leading companies on best practices for retaining talented female employees.
Catalyst finds that women executives face similar obstacles: lack of commitment by top leadership; lesser exposure to general management and line experience; gender-based stereotypes about women’s roles and abilities; limited access to informal networks of decision makers and mentors; and, finally, family responsibilities. Companies that have learned to benefit from the enormous potential of women use this list as their guide to best practices.
The Financial Women’s Association (FWA), a nonprofit organization that has been advancing professionalism for high-achieving financial women for 52 years, delivers over 100 leadership events and educational programs annually to address key topics of interest to itsmembership of 1,000 women and men. Key to the FWA’s effectiveness is the synergistic partnerships it has formed with financial companies—its President’s Circle—which provide access to their most senior experts and at the same time expose their women to the business knowledge, success strategies and invaluable mentoring and networking connections offered through the FWA.
Leadership commitment, especially from the CEO, is essential for creating an atmosphere that allows women to thrive. That leadership is revealed in many ways, certainly in what a CEO says in speeches, meetings and company communications, but more often from the unspoken signals.
The number of women serving on the board and in senior positions is one such signal, and companies like Johnson & Johnson have taken meaningful steps; between 25% and 30% of its board and executives are women. Since 2003, Sharon L. Allen has been the board chair of Deloitte&Touche LLP. When company leaders tie compensation to performance in promoting women, that sends a signal serious enough to prompt reassessment of women’s contributions
throughout a company.More opportunities and promotions for women tend to follow.
Promoting Management and Line Experience
Top positions are usually filled by those with general management and line experience, which increasingly include global assignments. Women often find themselves sidetracked to corporate rather than line positions; or, if they’re in a line position, unable to advance beyond middle management and closed out of global assignments. Currently, women fill only about 15% of global assignments.
Gender-based stereotypes, finds Catalyst, are part of the reason this happens to women. The belief that women are less effective leaders means many people will be reluctant to follow their direction, and their expertise and credibility are not as likely to influence others. It also lessens their chance to demonstrate problem-solving results, which in turn decreases the likelihood that they will be selected for the top positions that would require others to take direction from them. Women thus find themselves in a catch-22. Two simultaneous steps can jump-start the process of behavioral change.
First, when all managers receive training to identify stereotypes and understand their negative consequences at work and are provided with clear direction on how to evaluate women’s work and leadership styles more objectively, women’s annual assessments tend to improve.
Second, companies that are dedicated to training women—and then move them into — line and general management positions, as well as international assignments, find they alter the landscape for all women. Including women on all levels of leadership positions can help create better results. This is part of the UBS strategy, as UBS Americas Head of Client Relationship Management and Talent Management Teri Karole explains: “We continue to seek innovative and creative ways to invest and develop talented females from all levels of the organization to ensure that we are effectively developing a bench of future leaders.”
Access to Networks
Company-sponsored leadership development opportunities for women have proliferated over the last decade or so, and each iteration is refined to address more directly the specific obstacles women face in the workplace. Johnson& Johnson, for example, has partnered with the Smith College Consortium, an Executive Education Program designed for director-level women, and the Smith-Tuck Global Leaders Program, for vice president-level women. Many of the participants have achieved post-program advancement.
Women’s affinity groups, where they are actively supported by company leaders, are effective advocates for women’s contributions at work. The most effective groups sponsor leadership development events, networking opportunities with senior leaders and product and marketing advice within the company. At Credit Suisse, for example, the AmericasWomen’sNetwork plays a strategic role. In addition to participating in recruiting and retaining the most talented women, the Women’s Network also helps strengthen relationships with clients.
Mentoring programs, now commonplace, offer women one-on-one access to the insider knowledge of more experienced professionals inside the company. To ensure the most successful mentoring outcomes, Deloitte has enhanced its program with pre-mentoring training and group support sessions throughout the mentoring relationship.
The Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI), an employee affinity group at Johnson & Johnson with chapters in virtually all of its more than 250 operating companies worldwide, is the company’s partner in developing women leaders. The Smith College Consortium, the Smith College Custom Program, and the Smith-Tuck Global Leaders Program facilitate transformation of Johnson & Johnson women from specialists into strategists, key to success in leadership roles. The Women of Color/Multicultural Women’s Leadership Program, which includes training for the women’s supervisors, helps them address their unique challenges. Johnson & Johnson also has long-standing programs to help employees manage their work and family responsibilities.
With women representing roughly 30% of its board and executive committee and thousands of women among its top earners, Johnson & Johnson demonstrates its commitment. It’s not surprising Johnson & Johnson is one of only two companies named in Working Mother ‘s 100 best companies for all 21 years of the survey and ranks 8th on DiversityInc’s 2008 list of theTop 50 Companies for Diversity®.