The business case for gender parity has been well documented. For example, companies with a higher percentage of women in executive positions have a 34% higher total return to shareholders compared with those that don’t, according to Catalyst Research. At Bloomberg, supporting and fostering female talent is a business priority that is approached in a variety of ways. Among them is the Women’s Leadership Programme (WLP), an internal initiative which has been implemented in Bloomberg offices in Europe and the Middle East.
Rather than focus solely on promoting especially talented female employees or assisting those in need of direction, the programme supports skills enhancement and takes a nuanced approach to the learning and experiences that increase motivation and engagement to set women up for success. WLP cohorts have consisted of approximately 50 participants from 15 departments across Bloomberg’s London, Berlin, Dubai, offices. 2019’s WLP class, the programme’s fourth, will launch in February of this year.
A tailored approach to gender diversity
To address gender imbalances while attracting and retaining female talent, the design of the WLP intentionally incorporates factors that might indicate future leadership and role model potential. With this in mind, the criteria for participation in the WLP are highly specific. As authentic leadership can be complex to describe and define, identifying candidates with relevant qualities is best achieved through a holistic approach. As a result, the participating women represent more than just favorable sales numbers or positive reviews from their managers. They have an appetite for self-reflection, are open to receiving constructive challenges and feedback, and are prepared to pay their WLP experience forward, sharing the lessons they’ve learned with others.
Simply advocating broadly for more women in leadership positions overlooks the fact that promoting gender diversity often ignores intersectional differences in female employees, such as race, economic background, and education, among others. The WLP focuses deliberately on enhancing skill level and engagement, considering women in all their diversity when selecting participants and in the way it asks participants to reflect on and leverage their own diversity.
The WLP structure is designed to engage and encourage participants’ commitment to their careers beyond the confines of the programme itself, which runs for four full days: 2 consecutive days, a 4-6 week gap to apply learned concepts on the job and 2 final consecutive days. The approach is multifaceted – a combination of facilitator input, reflective learning, small group exercises, role play, and the use of diagnostic tools and contributions by guest speakers. All workshops are interactive, with an emphasis on experiential learning, periods of reflection and continuous action planning.
This structure intends to not only address a gender imbalance, but elevate and enhance employees’ existing skill sets to better prepare them to become an expert in a particular domain , develop new projects or initiatives, or pursue leadership roles. By breaking down preconceived notions and perceptions that certain roles aren’t accessible to women, the company can work to attract more female employees, while empowering and retaining existing talent.
Bloomberg’s Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Pamela Hutchinson, underscores the importance in helping women forge a tailored path to success in their careers. “Leadership programmes have their place but what they don’t recognise is the unique challenges women face navigating a majority male environment,” Hutchinson said. “This programme is not about a skills deficiency but instead provides a vehicle for women to authentically and successfully step into their leadership potential – in their own way as powerful female leaders.”
Participants work their way through modules focused on how to chart their careers, determine leadership foundations, develop personal brands, and effectively execute ambitions. By building on core skills while promoting networking and mentorship, the WLP aims to not only launch more women into leadership positions, but focus on empowerment and address underlying issues surrounding gender imbalance.
Motivation and engagement in practice
The participants’ experiences in the WLP reflect the programme’s considered approach: the women involved feel supported, encouraged, and ready to take on future challenges.
Jolandi Uys, a Commodities Data Team Leader, noticed a real change in her professional approach before and after participating in the programme. “Before the programme, I would never have considered applying for positions or putting my name forward for certain work-related opportunities,” she said. “I was surprised at how changed I felt after completing the programme. I feel more empowered now and more mindful of actions I took before that held me back from reaching my full potential.”
A focus on reconsidering professional trajectories and pursuing new goals was eye-opening for Shelley Magee Product Manager of Sell-Side Execution and Order Management Solutions (SSEOMS). “Before the course, I really didn’t focus specifically on what it meant to be a leader, of myself or others. I felt that, if I focused on doing my job properly, then I would naturally be seen as a leader,” she said. “Since the programme, I’ve been very conscious of approaching my role in a way that ensures I am seen as a leader in every situation.”
Uys took advantage of the potential for new connections within the WLP and has seen the benefits of a wider network. “During the programme I met a variety of women from different business areas within Bloomberg,” she said. “The shared experience of completing it has definitely bonded us together and I now have a much wider support network that I can reach out to at any time.”
Magee has noticed a real change in how she approaches her work and relationships in the office. “I am 100% more mindful of perceptions now, specifically how my behavior and reaction in every situation will be remembered,” she explained. “It is my responsibility to manage my leadership opportunities, to both advance my career and better lead (as opposed to manage) the people on my team. I was recently made a Team Leader (TL) and I feel the skills that I have learned during this course will really empower me to be a better TL.”
Each employee’s manager underscores this enthusiasm, particularly because the WLP makes them an integral part of the training and learning process. Managers are involved before, during, and after their employees’ programme sessions.
Linda Middleditch, Global Head of Product for SSEOMS and Shelley Magee’s manager, has seen clear and positive change as a result of the WLP. “Shelley is an excellent communicator and a level-headed leader,” she said. “The Programme has really boosted her confidence and helped her to realize her potential.”
Ultimately, the WLP aims to empower female employees to more proactively pursue their careers. If initial response is any indication, this approach is making an impact.
“I absolutely feel more empowered. I doubt myself less and I am more willing to step outside of my comfort zone,” said Uys. “This allows me to more easily stretch myself and take on additional responsibilities within my role.”
A version of this post originally appeared on Bloomberg.
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