The Path To Transforming Women's Place In Leadership

Ellevate Network

Women at Thomson Reuters Women's Transformative Leadership Forum

Ellevate Network

Kristy Wallace
Kristy Wallace

At Ellevate Network, a global professional women’s network, we regularly poll our members on topics pertaining to gender parity.  89% of Ellevate Members say that gender discrimination still exists at their companies and to close the gender gap, Ellevate members are personally networking with other women (23%), mentoring other women (20%), and calling out gender inequities when they see them (16%).

But what can companies do to close the gender achievement gap? At Thomson Reuters recent Women’s Transformative Leadership forum event, many themes emerged:

The Importance of Listening

53% of Ellevate Members feel they do not have a say in their company's policies and culture. Ami Kaplan, Senior Partner & Vice Chairman at Deloitte stressed the importance of not making assumptions and instead, listening to what employees are saying. When all of the feedback is laid on the table, you will often be surprised by what the critical issues really are. Kaplan highlighted the need to speak directly with employees via focus groups and roundtables. This helps companies to not only look at the macro picture but to then go deeper. According to Kaplan, “How you ask questions is very important. Being at work is a personal experience. Have open conversations with employees to define the issues. You may be surprised.”

Acknowledge Bias

According to Sonya Kunkel, Chief Inclusion Officer & Vice President, People Strategies & Insights at BMO Financial Group, we all have a blindspot. She referenced Dr. Mahzarin Banaji’s book Blindspot which explores hidden biases that we all carry from a lifetime of experiences with social groups. On Dr. Banaji’s website, “Blindspot” is defined as a metaphor to capture that portion of the mind that houses hidden biases. Kunkel discussed the important of talking openly about topics of bias and blindspots and the need to have consistent/known language around these topics. She stressed the need to assess bias in key moments such as interviews, reviews and team meetings.

Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Caren Ulrich Stacy, Chief Executive Officer, Diversity Lab & OnRamp Fellowship encouraged attendees to take action ( According to Stacy, “The more we celebrate innovation the more comfortable people will be with innovation. Let’s talk a little less and do a little more.” Stacy highlighted many programs that are successfully tackling the barriers keeping women from advancing including returning to work after an extended leave (OnRamp Fellowship), women on boards (The Boardlist), women on panels (AWP), public perception of female role models (Microsoft), office face time (PowerToFly), hiring quotas (The Rooney Rule), resources for female entrepreneurs (Ellevate Network, Pipeline Angels, Springboard), bias in hiring (Blendoor), sponsorship in the workplace (Citi, Holland & Knight), and helping women post maternity leave (Vodafone). Stacy pointed out that “everyone says it is a good idea but that it won’t work at their company. To see progress, we need to start thinking about how it can work at your company.”

Understand Your Workforce

Many of the panelists stressed the importance of evolving the business to keep pace with the changing landscape of employees. Best practices vary by generation and if businesses try to force employees to work a certain way, they miss out an an opportunity to engage with employees. For example, Sheryl Battles, Vice President, Corporate Communications at Pitney Bowes Inc. highlighted how a fixation on a “face-time” culture can detract focus from a results-oriented workplace. Ingrid Busson, Executive Director, Legal & Compliance at Morgan Stanley pointed out the importance of using technology such as email and video conference to engage a younger workforce but noted that there is an accessibility issue where a culture of “always on all the time can lead to employee burnout.”

Look at the Whole Person

Ami Kaplan, Senior Partner & Vice Chairman at Deloitte discussed the importance of offering employees an empowered well-being: body, mind and purpose. At Deloitte, employees are encouraged to schedule meetings for 25/50 minutes so there is time at the end for a quick walk. Kaplan stressed that transparency is key and employee lives are comprised of more than just work so companies need to think holistically about well being.

Support from the Top

According to the Ellevate community, senior management engagement (35%) is working best at improving diversity in companies. Sonya Kunkel, Chief Inclusion Officer & Vice President, People Strategies & Insights at BMO Financial Group shared a similar sentiment, “Engage senior leadership with strategic priorities tied to goals. It is a journey but one where senior leaders should be held accountable.” Lee Miller, Global Chair Emeritus of DLA Piper LLP echoed this as well and stressed that to embrace diversity, companies should set a plan and make it part of the corporate values. “Diversity & Inclusion has to be part of firm values from day one, it won’t work if you don’t have a system that reinforces the values.”

Act. Learn. Measure. Act.

Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri, Chief Diversity Officer & Global Co-Head of Talent Development at Goldman Sachs stresses that companies need to be willing to make adjustments and change course with their diversity & inclusion strategy. It isn’t a one size fits all solution and each affinity group has its own breaking points. Some ideas will work and some may not so companies need the flexibility to change course and evolve their programs. As Ami Kaplan, Senior Partner & Vice Chairman at Deloitte stressed, “Employee engagement data is important but you have to do something with it.”

At Ellevate, we believe that we are in the unique position to take the conversation around gender inequality from dialogue and advocacy to real change. We will continue to evolve the findings from The Thomson Reuters Women’s Transformative Leadership Forum and work with companies to close the gender achievement gap within their organizations.

The original version of this article was published by our friends at Ellevate.


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