For the last year, I’ve been on the hunt for what seems like a proverbial needle in the haystack: companies that are actually changing their cultures in order to advance significant numbers of women into the senior ranks. One company that has moved the needle quite substantially, which I mentioned, albeit briefly given limited space, in my recent New York Times article is BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager that employs 12,500 people globally. Since that article came out, many people have asked me for more information on what BlackRock is doing and this article sets forth some of the details.
While founded 25 years ago, by eight partners, including two women, it wasn’t until 2009, that the firm, during one of its biggest acquisitions (Barclays Global Investors) got serious about developing more formalized talent management practices in terms of advancing women. At first, they expanded upon the Women’s Initiative Network (WINS) started by Barclays, but about a year later, decided that wasn’t enough; they needed a program exclusively for senior women. In 2011, they launched the Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF), a yearlong program to address the leadership skills, global networks and sponsorships needed for advancement.
Each year, approximately 40 directors and managing directors throughout the company globally are invited to participate in WLF. They are nominated by the Global Executive Committee (GEC), BlackRock’s highest level decision-making body, comprised of approximately 22 executives, responsible for key operations. A key criterion for selection is being seen as a high-performing corporate athlete with the potential to move into a larger enterprise role in a specific domain or across functions.
More than 160 women have completed the WLF program, and it is now a highly-coveted opportunity within the firm. Two-thirds of the participants from the pilot program moved into new or expanded roles within approximately a year, and since then, 89 percent of alumnae have achieved similar success.
Further, 71 percent of the alumnae who began the program as directors have since been promoted to managing director. In 2013, one-third of managing directors’ promotions were women, a level nearly sustained in 2014 and 2015. For comparison, in 2015 Goldman Sachs touted that a quarter of its new management directors were women, a record breaking proportion for the firm.
The program has proven to be equally valuable in terms of gaining membership on influential governance bodies.
Top Ten Success Factors
Here’s what I found talking with those involved in its design and implementation.
#1: Lead from the Top
From the very beginning, BlackRock’s Chairman and CEO, along with members of the Board, GEC and other governance committees, invested significant time, energy and money in the program without which the program’s success would have been greatly diminished.
#2: Make the Business Case
BlackRock has consistently linked its talent strategy to business goals. As Barbara Novick, co-founder, vice chairman and member of the GEC put it:, “First, groups make better choices if they have diverse opinions. Second, our customers notice and care. Third, our employees notice and care.”
#3: Close The Gaps
Driven by research, WTF was designed exclusively to fill gaps and help equip senior women with insights, skills and strategies needed to navigate the landscape they face as females in business. To keep the program unique, it avoids replicating other professional development programs in the firm.
#4: Start With a 360 Degree Assessment
The program begins by providing each woman with an in-depth assessment on individual performance, considered a critical first step since research demonstrates major gaps in the quantity and quality of feedback women receive the higher they go.
#5: Complement with Executive Coaching and Career Planning
Given that women often rely on chance rather than create a clear career plan for themselves, each participant is paired with a leadership coach who helps them develop a career aspiration statement and action plan and provides yearlong guidance.
#6: Sponsors from The Top
Most GEC members are intimately involved in the program, not only nominating women but also serving as sponsors for participants. HR pairs the GEC member sponsor who can best provide the opportunities, exposure and expertise that would most help a particular woman progress in her career.
#7: Build Community
With building a global community of women a key program goal, the women come together throughout the year, both virtually and in-person, to receive training on topics like executive presence and negotiations. They are also involved in peer learning groups (with approximately five women) to work on assignments and to serve as sounding boards for one another.
#8: Ensure a Continual Feedback Loop with Managers
Managers of all those participating in the program are thoroughly briefed on the project and participate in the 360 degree assessment with the women encouraged to rely on them for suggestions and overall support in both creating and implementing their career action plans.
#9: Get the Guys Involved
Once male GEC sponsors experience how much women value their personal involvement they become invested in the program while also gaining greater insight and appreciation for emerging leaders. (BlackRock recently rolled out unconscious bias training across the firm for all managers globally.)
#10: Pay It Forward
In the closing session, participants articulate pay-it-forward commitments in front of GEC members promising to sponsor and develop other leaders in the future whether men, women or those from diverse populations.
The truth is there are no quick or easy answers to changing the frustratingly slow pace of advancement of women in the workplace. We need to address the cluster of dynamics negatively impacting women in terms of work life balance, work environment and career development. We need leaders who are willing to lead this change.
The days of organizations laying claim to inclusivity with one–off trainings or networking cocktail parties—fine for specific purposes, but merely window dressing for changing a culture and advancing women into the highest ranks— should be a thing of the past. Why waste everyone’s time and money when there is so much to do—and we have examples like BlackRock that show us how.
Click here for an expanded version of this article with more stats and insights from the program’s creators. Peggy Klaus, an executive coach and leader of corporate training programs, is the author of “BRAG!” and “The Hard Truth About Soft Skills.” To reach her, visit www.peggyklaus.com
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