Not only are the top companies hiring more and more women leaders— they are helping them rise to the stratosphere.
Many companies are helping women thrive in their careers—and then there are the superstars, which are boldly pushing their efforts to new levels. Rolling out programs for women is a good start, but which companies are truly transforming their internal culture? Getting their top brass involved? Creating initiatives that garner meaning-ful results?
Diversity Woman is proud to celebrate 100 companies that are weaving women’s empowerment into the very fabric of their organization’s daily life. They’re having deeper conversations, listening to their employees, and trying new approaches.
We evaluated organizations based on several criteria, including women’s upward mobility, proportion of multicultural women on staff, presence of female managers and executives, presence of women on the company’s board, mentorship programs for women, family-friendly policies, and inclusion of women in succession planning. A company’s history supporting its female employees was also considered.
We applaud these forward-thinking organizations as they help women build their dream careers—and gain a competitive edge along the way.
Here now is a brief overview of a few of the 100 Best Companies for Women’s Leadership Development.
Bright young minds are attracted to global management consulting firms, which promise exciting, challenging careers. Women are still in the minority on many consulting teams, but A.T. Kearney wants to change that. The firm aspires to become gender balanced, and for good reason.
“Gender-diverse companies are almost 17 percent more profitable than other companies, and there’s a strong correlation between high-performing companies and female representation at the top,” says Michelle Hay, Americas HR director at the firm. In fact, in a survey of major organizations that use consulting firms, conducted in 2013 by Source for Consulting, 90 percent of clients said they’d like to see more women on consulting teams, as did 100 percent of general managers.
Consulting is demanding work, with long hours. So to keep clients happy while ensuring work-life balance for female employees—and for men too—A.T. Kearney is revamping the old model. The firm’s Success with Flex program, for example, lets employees customize a career and schedule that work for them. One woman, who joined the firm as an associate, works four days a week. “It hasn’t held her back,” says Hay. “She was recently promoted to principal—the level right before partner.”
Because constant travel can be tough for consultants with families, A.T. Kearney introduced WorkSmart, in which the consulting team decides when it’s truly important to be at a client’s site. Consultants typically work on-site four days a week, but for some projects, that may be overkill.
And when the firm realized that it was losing women following maternity leave, it created Pathway for Parents, which gives new parents one year to ramp back up. “You can take leave for that twelve months, with partial pay and full benefits,” Hay says. “Another option is to work part-time on internal projects, with limited or no travel. Or, if you want to stay client facing, you can do it from the location where you are.”
Wyndham Hotels and Resorts
Several years ago, Wyndham spoke to female customers to learn about their travel needs. The company found that a woman might not want to have a hotel room on the ground floor due to safety concerns, for example, and might prefer a key without the room number on it. Those insights led Wyndham to create its Women on Their Way program, a resource for female travelers.
The program was so successful that Wyndham decided to roll out a similar program for its female employees. “We have a dialogue with women to ask, how can women ascend the organization?” says Patricia Lee, senior vice president. “How do women have that negotiation? Bring up tough ideas? Go back for education? Balance work and family?” The company’s Women on Their Way associate business group now has 18 chapters worldwide, with more than 2,500 members.
This is just one initiative at Wyndham that supports women, who make up half of the company’s workforce and occupy nearly 40 percent of positions at the director level and above. Lee says those demographics give the company a competitive advantage, as about 80 percent of travel decisions are made by the female head of household.
The global hotelier also supports women and diverse employees through mentoring programs, from one-on-one pairings to mentoring circles for groups such as women in IT or African American employees. Meanwhile, Wyndham’s employee survey has also offered valuable insights. “People told us that it’s not natural for Hispanic women to raise their hand and say, ‘I want more money,’ or ‘I want a promotion,’” Lee says. “So we put together a Hispanic mentoring circle to learn more and to help them manage their careers in a corporate environment.”
“This is a way for us to strengthen our pipeline,” says Lucida Plummer, vice president, Diversity and Inclusion. “Trends across industry demonstrate that, as folks start climbing up the ladder, there’s a leak in the pipeline of talent, especially diverse talent. So we target these mentor circles at specific levels where we feel there’s a risk, and an opportunity to strengthen the likelihood of success.”
Multicultural Women at Every Level
Health-care provider Kaiser Permanente’s workforce is so diverse that there is no racial majority. The company is also three-quarters female, with many women in top positions. One-third of Kaiser’s physicians are women, as are nearly half of its executives and more than 35 percent of its board of directors, including its newest board member, former US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD.
Women have long benefited from the organization’s supportive culture. Ije-Enu Udeze, chief of staff in the office of the president for Kaiser Permanente, has childhood memories of her mother working at Kaiser, with company support in balancing work and home life. So when Udeze began her own career, she joined Kaiser. “I had mentors who helped me grow in my career,” she says. “While I was working, I got my MBA, and the organization supported me. Then a stretch assignment came available in Washington, DC, and that created other opportunities.”
Kaiser’s National Diversity Agenda, in addition to advancing women, has helped the company build a racially diverse workforce. Diverse employees get mentorship, as well as access to affinity groups and special focus groups. “We provide care for about 10 million members, who probably represent every ethnic and racial group in our society,” says Udeze. “Our senior leaders, from our CEO Bernard Tyson on down, focus on having a leadership and internal team that reflect what our communities look like.”
That’s crucial to providing culturally competent medical care. “I’m Nigerian,” Udeze says. “In Nigerian culture, it’s important for a husband and wife to come into an ob-gyn appointment together. We serve a large Nigerian population, and we need to have that sensitivity.” Kaiser employs Nigerian and other diverse health providers, assesses various communities’ needs, and even studies health-care systems around the world.
The company also teaches students of various backgrounds about health-care careers, to inspire the next generation. As Udeze says, “Diversity is important to our leaders, so it will be relevant to the future of the organization.”
Diversity in the Boardroom
Corporate boards wield significant power—approving annual budgets, reviewing executive performance, and green-lighting strategic decisions. Although women constitute half the workforce in the United States, fewer than 17 percent of corporate board members are female.
Then there are companies like Texas Instruments, which uses an independent search firm to find candidates with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. The global semiconductor manufacturer’s 11-person board currently includes four female, one Hispanic, and two African American board members.
“Diversity improves thought processes, encourages collaboration, and ignites creativity—all of which benefit TI as a business,” says Samantha Dwinell, vice president of Talent Management. “We look at work and life experience in order to maintain a board that effectively oversees the company, from its strategy and operations to ethics and compliance.”
Having diversity on the ground is equally important, because TI solves real-world problems with project teams in more than 35 countries. So the company’s leadership is actively involved in programs like the TI Diversity Network, whose employee-led diversity initiatives include educational programs, career development, and volunteer projects in local communities. As Dwinell says, “We want the best and brightest minds working on the most difficult technological challenges, and believe finding creative solutions to problems requires different perspectives, life experiences, and worldviews.”
Principal Financial Group
Women Moving Up
In 2014, about half of promotions to leadership roles at Principal Financial Group went to women. That’s especially notable in financial services, an industry that has been traditionally male. And women at the firm are climbing to positions of influence: one-third of the firm’s top executives are now women, as are 36 percent of its board members (compared to 18 percent industry-wide).
“Early on, we recognized that there’s value in diversity of thinking around a table when you’re making decisions or driving initiatives forward,” says Deanna Strable-Soethout, president of US Insurance Solutions at the firm. “That comes in many realms—in gender, age, ethnicity, and different areas of expertise.”
Strable-Soethout, the first woman to become a division president at Principal, says several mentors advocated for her with senior leadership—and also nudged her out of her comfort zone. The opportunities were many, thanks to Principal’s rotational training program, which moved her around the company. “Early on in my career, I worked in Brussels, Belgium,” she says. “I had an amazing opportunity to work independently and learn about different cultures. In my 25 years, I’ve had 10 different roles, so Principal has been great about giving me different opportunities to learn more about the business. I learned early on that a pure technical role probably wasn’t for me. I liked leading people and pulling many different aspects together.”
Several years ago, Principal launched Women’s Network for Leaders (Strable-Soethout has been an executive sponsor since its start) to move more women into leadership. The program offers career development, networking, job shadowing, and mentoring. The company has also rolled out two sister programs, Women in Sales and Women in Technology. Strable-Soethout acknowledges that there’s more work to do but says, “Diversity culture is very much embedded within the company, and we see a lot of success.”
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
Women at the Top
Women have certainly progressed in the legal profession since the early 1950s—when only 3 percent of attorneys were female—but law continues to be mostly male, especially in the upper echelons. Not so at Finnegan, where 55 percent of staff chief officers and directors are women, as are 71 percent of managers and supervisors.
That’s particularly impressive for an intellectual property firm like Finnegan, which seeks lawyers with technical and science undergraduate degrees, a pool that continues to be primarily male. “The firm has made great strides despite these challenges,” says Dori Hines, a partner at the firm. “When I became a partner in 2000, I was the first woman partner in the Electrical Practice Group. That year, the ranks of women partners broke into double digits, and since that time, women have served as practice group and section leaders, members of the management and compensation committees, managing partner, and firm chair.”
Young female attorneys at Finnegan have benefited from the Women’s Initiative program, which provides mentorship. When Hines was an associate—and a new parent—she sought out a partner in the Mechanical Practice Group, Barbara McCurdy. “I heard she was an excellent lawyer and I knew she had a young family,” Hines says. “We worked on several projects, and I was able to see firsthand how she balanced work and family. And she gave me great opportunities. I’ve tried to use Barbara’s example as I work with young women at the firm.”
Finnegan has also incorporated work–life initiatives like backup child care, a generous maternity leave policy, and a phased back-to-work program for new mothers. The firm also allows telecommuting, remote work, and even an 80 percent work schedule (with full benefits) or a 60 percent schedule.
As women assume key leadership positions, Finnegan is also bringing other diverse voices to the table—representing differences in race, geography, and practice type. As Hines says, “We serve our clients best if we understand their business needs and can also relate to and identify with their individual experiences.”
Eli Lilly and Company
Giving Women a Voice in Succession Planning
Eli Lilly began hiring women and promoting them into key roles long before the practice was common. It was 1876 when the company hired its first female employee, and in 1927 Anna Hickson became Lilly’s first female lab technician.
Over time, the global pharmaceutical company’s commitment to workplace diversity has only grown. To diversify the very top of the organization, Lilly evaluates all talent for leadership potential, especially seeking out diverse talent. All managers—36 percent are women—assess their employees to find the shining stars, who are given opportunities to grow their leadership skills.
In addition, the Global Lilly Women’s Network, composed of more than 4,500 members around the world, helps women to successfully lead and exert influence at the company. The network offers quarterly speaker events, teleconferences with female leaders at Lilly, and a leader’s conference.
Through these programs, many women have been groomed for leadership and have ultimately risen up the ranks. For example, Lilly has four women and two people of color on its 14-person executive committee, who report directly to the CEO and have profit-and-loss responsibilities.
The company also has four women on its board of directors (29 percent), besting many other Fortune 500 companies. Research shows that organizations must have at least three women directors to reach “critical mass,” thereby enhancing performance and governance, yet 28 percent of the Fortune 500 have just one female board member, and 5 percent have none.
Because Lilly serves so many different cultures and needs, its diversity efforts span the globe. In 2004, Lilly introduced a program to develop female leaders in Japan and has since rolled out work–life balance programs there. Over the last five years, Lilly Saudi Arabia has transformed its local workforce from having no female employees to being a national industry leader in gender diversity. Lilly had to get permission from the national labor office to have a “female section” in the business and had to restructure its local office to meet the agency’s requirements. But leaders say the investment has been worth it, because having a strong female presence is essential for the company to achieve its business goals and improve quality of life for people around the world. IN