Giving women a boost: Companies use in-house programs to maximize the potential of female employees Crowe Chizek and Co. LLC Rolls-Royce North America

February 14, 2005

While men and women are often hired in equal numbers, inequities tend to crop up once employees reach management level and above. For innovative companies, the race is on to move more women into the management pipeline.

"I think it is a trend in companies that have been smart enough to take a look at their promotion patterns over the last five to six years," said Nancy Ahlrichs Raichart, author and founder of Indianapolis-based EOC Strategies, a human resources consulting firm.

Not only do companies need to level the playing field when it comes to opportunities for advancement to retain women, they need to "mirror their clients."

"Clients are very savvy to the difference between reality and buzz words," Raichart said. "I personally have been in organizations where a prospect asked to meet everyone on our staff. This was their way of verifying that we have a diverse staff-that we practice what we preach."

Some companies have developed their own in-house programs to advance women, based on the companies' goals and corporate culture. Following is a look at four such programs.

The office of the CEO for South Bend-based accounting firm Crowe Chizek and Co. sanctioned Women Into Leadership, a formal program with dedicated staff, in 2002.

A steering committee and a council, which includes representation from every line of business, develop strategies, action plans and timelines to overcome the three barriers the company's female employees face: lack of visible female role models, work/life issues and the need for additional career-development activities.

"Our [chief operating officer] sits on our steering committee, so there is a direct line there in terms of support and connections to the program," said Mary Bennett, Indianapolis-based operating executive of the Dealership Services Group and one of the founders of Women Into Leadership.

The program targets women in leadership positions, or those who are most likely to move into leadership posts, for membership. Each year, about 30 women are selected by the business units for membership and assigned a sponsor whose primary role is ongoing career advocacy.

Since the program began, the number of female senior managers has increased by 7.2 percent and the number of female executives has increased by 2.8 percent. Retention has increased as well, resulting in turnovercost savings of more than $1 million.

"It is not a quick fix," Bennett said. "Anytime you are developing leadership, it is a long-term commitment."

Jennifer Monaghan, an audit executive in the Financial Institutions Group in Indianapolis, serves as a sponsor and also touches base with members in the network on a regular basis. She feels Crowe Chizek is a firm that is "walking the walk."

"One of the key initiatives is early identification for at-risk individuals to help them work through issues they are facing," Monaghan said. "Sometimes it's just good to get together and talk with others to validate that you are not the only one facing a tough situation. I feel really good to have made a contribution to help somebody through a tough spot."

Attending a company-sponsored, in-house program on women in management in 2001 was all the incentive several local employees needed to create the Women's Career Development Forum at Rolls-Royce North America's Indianapolis facility, which makes aircraft, industrial and marine engines.

"At the end of that three-day program, we looked at each other and asked, 'Where do we go from here? How do we take this into our own hands? What are we doing to maximize our own career potentials?'" said Nadine Melind, manager of program development for the local plant of Washington, D.C.-based RRNA.

The forum's goals are to develop mentoring relationships and members' business acumen; share information about company programs, opportunities and resources; celebrate successes; promote visibility with senior management; and focus on community involvement.

"I think the visibility with senior management is really a significant achievement for the forum," Melind said.

Cindy Ware, director of process improvement for the local plant and an original member of the forum's organizing team along with Melind, said the forum was the springboard that helped her obtain a recent promotion and is a motivating force for women.

"They are now looking for opportunities, whereas previously, they were probably allowing their careers to follow whatever paths they were taking naturally," Ware said.

In 1997, New York-based accounting firm Ernst & Young created the Center for the New Workforce, an umbrella office for initiatives such as the Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA), a flextime program for all company employees.

"This is how serious we are about it," said Shari Alexander Richey, a tax partner in the local E&Y office. Richey represents Indianapolis and Fort Wayne women as a member of E&Y's Lake Michigan Area Gender Equity Steering Committee and the national Gender Equity Task Force. "We are going to make firm-wide, culture-wide changes and truly effectuate a paradigm shift."

Key components of the national initiative include a "scorecard" to measure results, mentoring, networks and an annual award that recognizes leaders in women's development. Richey started the Indy Jugglers, a monthly program facilitated by a licensed clinical therapist to discuss pertinent work/life issues.

Locally, the focus is on building and honing women's networking skills, executive presence and marketing personas. A current hot topic among networking groups is getting women assigned to plum accounts.

"The whole idea is to get folks to ... recognize that diversity in our team assignments makes good business sense," Richey said. "Besides the fact that it is the right thing to do, it's the right business thing to do."

Since 1996, the number of women partners at E&Y has more than tripled. Male and female employees, including 55 from the Indianapolis office, are participating in FWAs and being promoted to top management positions while involved in the program.

Over 10 years ago, the Lilly Women's Network was formed by a group of women at local pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Co. as a grass-roots, volunteer network with the goal of retaining talent. Its mission was to be a catalyst for creating programs that leveraged the career development of all employees, regardless of gender or position.

A leadership group, which includes representation from all areas of the company, spearheads the development of network programs based on survey results indicating areas of need or interest. Arleen Palmberg, a patent attorney for Lilly and leader of the network, said mentoring and networking are always high on the list.

The leadership group also helps facili tate "satellite networks"-smaller groups of women who meet to network and discuss issues specific to their work areas.

Programs range from broad-based to those targeted to a specific segment of employees, such as one to help "experienced" new hires transition into the company. Some prove to be so popular, such as the mentoring workshops and the gender-communications programs, they are incorporated into the company's mainstream.

"If we develop a program that looks as though it will have a long-term impact, we find an organization in the company to own it and administer it more broadly," Palmberg said.

While the network has no formal measures of success, Palmberg said interest runs high in the program's initiatives.

"One of the things we like to try to do is have other women in the company lead those initiatives," she said. "It is a great leadership opportunity, a great networking opportunity and a great learning experience. The development and growth that I see in the women who participated is incredibly gratifying to me."
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