When you think about what it’s like to work at a large company, you may imagine it’s a somewhat impersonal experience. Especially for women in traditionally male-dominated fields, feeling alienated from others can happen more than we like to admit. With hundreds of thousands of employees in the mix, is it really possible for team members to feel like they’re working with a cohesive and supportive group of people?
If you work at GE, the answer is yes. In addition to making employees happy with great flexibility policies and benefits, GE is providing employees with some incredible programs to help them develop their skills and careers.
One of the programs we love most is a strategic selling training initiative called “If You Can See It, You Can Be It.” It’s all about bringing real women and their real stories to life; the program was founded on the idea that we often can’t envision or imagine a leadership career for ourselves without being able to see it around us in the women we admire.
“If You Can See It, You Can Be It” was designed for GE commercial women and the company’s customers, and within the past two years, more than 400 women across three continents have participated.
We got the inside scoop from GE on how exactly the program originated, and the story is pretty fascinating. Of course, a storytelling initiative must begin with a story, and for the person who spearheaded “If You Can See It, You Can Be It” -- Cate Gutowski, VP GE Commercial Digital Thread -- it was a very personal one.
How Did This Initiative Develop?
Cate tells us that after spending many years as “the only woman in the room” through her work in technical sales and sales leadership for GE’s Energy Connections and Lighting businesses, she rose up the ranks and was invited by CEO Jeff Immelt to a dinner to discuss how GE can attract, retain, and promote more women into the Commercial function (sales, marketing and product management) and into bigger leadership roles.
She says she was self-admittedly uncomfortable with the prospect of representing her gender in such a setting, so she initially took a more data-centered approach, preparing for the dinner by researching why it was important to have more female leaders. “I prepared all of the hard facts that demonstrated that diverse teams outperformed their counterparts and more,” she says.
“But what I learned that night was that sharing the truth about my own experiences working as a female leader within GE could be much more powerful. And when Immelt challenged those same women to find solutions for empowering female leadership within GE, I was inspired to do my ‘homework.’”
It wasn’t until Cate moved with her family to Budapest for another professional opportunity within GE that she learned first-hand how sharing personal stories in the workplace – and painting a very real, holistic picture of an executive, business leader, mom and wife – could truly resonate with other women and inspire them to reach for bigger opportunities.
While living and working in Eastern Europe, Cate found the answer to the “homework” assignment and began to design “If You Can See It, You Can Be It,” a world-class strategic storytelling professional development experience for female leaders on the rise, both within GE, and at the company’s key customers around the globe.
How Exactly Does the Program Work?
Of course, the work doesn’t stop once an idea is developed and defined.
GE’s goal is to help female leaders learn the art of strategic storytelling – the ability to tell the right story, at the right time, to the right people to motivate others to take action. To make this happen, they host a two-day immersive curriculum, developed at GE’s renowned learning facility in Crotonville, NY, that trains participants on how to use stories to influence and inspire both internal and external stakeholders.
After a day of instruction, the women are encouraged to share their personal stories within the group. It is completely voluntary, and the room is considered a “safe space” to practice their newly-learned storytelling skills. Participants learn how to give - and receive - feedback, critical skills for leaders.
To ensure the program delivers a lasting impact, a small, volunteer team from the GE Women’s Network and GE Crotonville built an extensive library of videos with the compelling personal stories of diverse women working for GE and GE’s customers that emerge during these workshops.
“The video stories we’ve captured showcase both our employees and our customers at different stages of leadership, as the intention is for a woman to see or hear one another and think, ‘I can do this,’” Cate explains.
The initiative has certainly helped women at GE feel like they’re part of a more intimate professional community. Cate says that these stories have played a role in connecting and inspiring women all over the company’s global organization, which spans more than 180 countries, and that participation in the program has created new opportunities for female leadership, so that GE can continue to evolve into a more diverse organization.
GE also shares these stories on its networking and social channels to make the initiative more accessible to a wider audience. There are two more stops planned for South America and Africa, and there are already many requests to expand it further.
“The response rate was especially strong for our most recent event in Singapore, where women from across 18 countries gathered,” Cate says. “By the conclusion of the session, the GE team had new requests to bring it India, China, Thailand and more.”
She adds that the feedback GE has received so far has been “overwhelmingly positive. It’s powerful to observe how the bond is strengthened between women within GE, and with our female customers.”
How Does GE Know This Initiative is Effective?
One of the reasons we’re so into this program is that we can see tangible evidence of how well it’s working. Cate explains that a GE Aviation employee recently shared that she decided to accept a promotion that she’d previously declined after viewing several of the “If You Can See It, You Can Be It” videos.
“She shared that she had originally dismissed the idea because she didn’t think she could handle a new promotion, along with her responsibilities with her three children, but after seeing several of the videos on YouTube, she realized that she was selling herself short,” Cate says. “I was so happy when I heard this… as this is what our initiative is all about, it’s about empowering and inspiring women to realize that they can do – or be – anything.”
GE’s customers have responded similarly. One customer who attended an event alongside her sales rep from GE’s Oil & Gas business was featured in the company newsletter and was asked to share at a company meeting what she had learned. A few months later, she was promoted. “The day she received her promotion, she wrote to me thanking her, as she believed she was promoted based on what she learned at our professional development training session,” Cate says.
“She described how she had been using stories to motivate and inspire at both home and work. She told me that by applying the learnings at home, she was able to practice easily, and it really helped the material to ‘stick.’ So, when she arrived to work the next morning, it became easy to apply the concepts. These are the stories that are incredibly motivating to me,” Cate continues, “and it helps me to know that what we are doing is really making a difference in the lives of so many women all over the world.”
This Program is Just One of Many Reasons We Love GE
“If You Can See It, You Can Be It” caught our attention - but we’re not surprised that GE has developed such a remarkable program. The company - which invests $1B in delivering professional development training every year - has a history of committing to world-class training not just for leaders within GE, but also for valued customers.
This new program has become a popular centerpiece of the GE Women’s Network, and is a great example of how the GE Women’s Network can make a difference for their employees, as well as female customers who participate.
If you’re feeling jealous of GE employees who get to benefit from this kind of program - among many other perks - we don’t blame you. But we encourage you to act on that jealousy and check out open positions at GE - because they're hiring like crazy!
Here are some jobs you can apply to:
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