How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
You’ll be speaking at the Women’s Forum on Nov. 14-16th in Paris about how traditional structures are holding organizations back with regards to inclusivity and gender equality. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership in the finance industry?
Unfortunately, this is not a challenge that can be fixed simply through a structured program. These types of relationships tend to develop organically through informal networking opportunities. Because sponsors can have such a major impact on career development, I have been a firm advocate for American Express women to have the access and time they need to develop these types of relationships. There are a couple of programs that I am pleased to share have really made a difference at American Express.
The first program is a Shadowing program we launched in 2015. A woman executive (the “Shadowee”) accompanies one of our senior-most leaders in the company (the “Host”) throughout a day to experience “a day in the life," so to speak. This initiative provides high-performing women executives with the opportunity to gain insight into the daily management, decision making and leadership skills required for the senior most levels of the organization.
The second is a series of Golf Clinics, which our Executive Women’s Interest Network launched in 2010. These outings create a comfortable and fun setting for mid-level leaders to seek out sponsors, and for executives to connect with protégés.
Through these programs, our female executives are establishing new relationships with leaders who may one day become sponsors or advocates. They are also acquiring valuable skills to help them navigate a broad range of corporate situations – giving women confidence to share their point of view with senior leaders, and to accept an invitation to join a business partner for a golf event. These are small steps, but they help move the needle to ensure women can find the sponsors they need to help them advance in their careers.
We hear a lot of talk about making the workforce more inclusive. But when push comes to shove, it can be difficult to make real change; the rhetoric doesn’t always match the reality. What do you think are some of the steps companies can take to ensure their workforces actually become more diverse and inclusive?
As a senior woman in finance, a field that tends to be male-dominated, I recognize that through my words and actions, I have a responsibility to set a tone for inclusivity across my organization. My goal is to create an environment where women’s voices are represented and heard, and that they are empowered to take the risks they need to truly flourish. This is the essence of inclusivity.
Some companies are diversifying their talent pool with re-entry programs that offer tools and networks to individuals who have taken a break from their career. Who are the primary beneficiaries of American Express’s re-entry program, and how has American Express benefitted?
The initiative was a success. Many of the interns received offers to join us full time, and we are already planning for our next class of return-to-work interns. Overall, our organization benefitted by discovering top talent we might not have had access to otherwise. Our interns all had rich, diverse life experiences that they have been able to leverage on their return.
What advice do you have for women hoping to re-enter their industry after a long break?
As a rule of thumb, I believe it typically takes three months to learn a job, six months to do it well, and nine months to truly add value. Work with you leader to determine a solid development plan to get up to speed and ensure your success for the short, medium and long-term.
As you reenter the workforce, you will likely find that certain aspects of your industry have changed – some areas might be more challenging, whereas others might feel easier. Build on your strengths. But also seek out feedback and guidance to improve on the areas where you may not have as much background.
You were recently named the global executive sponsor of the Women’s Interest Network, the American Express platform for women’s development and leadership around the world. What, in your opinion, are the qualities of a successful women’s resource group?
By focusing on a limited set of priorities, resource groups of all kinds can have a truly valuable impact on helping women and other diverse groups move forward.
What advice do you have for women looking to help other women professionally?