This post is adapted from “Breaking Through: Stories and Best Practices from Companies That Help Women Leaders Succeed” (Wiley, April 2016) by Martine Liautaud, founder of the Women Initiative Foundation, in coordination with global energy player and expert operator ENGIE. WIF seeks to improve the place of women in business and increase their presence in universities around the world through active mentorship, sponsorship support and training programs.
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In today’s world, every major group is aware of the gender gap, and significant progress has been made to narrow it through programs to support and promote women at all levels of management. Mentoring and sponsoring are key tools in these programs.
For mentoring and sponsoring to be successful, they need to be recognized as key to achieving the company’s aims — integrating employees and engaging them with the company’s values — and they need to be implemented throughout the workforce, and supported by CEOs.
The keys to success are often the willingness of a manager, or group of managers, and the resources invested in achieving the goals.
Mentoring should not be improvised, but rather prepared and believed in throughout the company — and supported by both women and men.
Mentoring programs must be structured, open to everyone, trackable, and sustainable. Mentoring is not a passing fancy, but a means to promotion and equality, which the CEO needs to support continuously.
Here are a few examples of good mentoring programs in place now:
Gérard Mestrallet (chairman of ENGIE) points to studies showing that gender equality and diversity increase the company’s overall performance, and while he recognizes that the bottom line is important, he also believes that major groups should be leading social thinking and social change. For ENGIE, the aim is to recruit not only a good mix of men, women and talents, but also to ensure that this mix is mirrored at the managerial level and the board level.
In 2008, ENGIE set up its Women In Networking program, aimed at increasing women’s visibility in the group, and then, in 2010, launched the Mentoring at ENGIE program specifically designed to help women to break through the glass ceiling to positions of key responsibility. For mentoring and sponsoring to be successful, men, too, need to engage with it, not only to understand the aspirations and obstacles faced by high-potential women, but also to recognize mentoring as a way to understand the company in its fast-changing environment.
Leopoldo Boado (chairman of Oracle Spain) also points to the tangible benefits of mentoring, and sees mentoring and sponsoring programs as both a talent retention tool and a talent management tool that develops internal talent and gives the company a global competitive advantage.
Oracle is the pioneer of cross-company mentoring, pairing mentors and mentees of different companies, enabling mentees to develop their skills, and mentors to develop their leadership capabilities. As he points out, mentoring is an “initiative that aligns equitable treatment and talent development.”
At BNY Mellon, Karen Peetz (president) is passionate about equality and diversity. She suggests that lack of sponsors and lack of role models are the main obstacles that stand in the way of women’s success—closely followed by others’ prejudices as well as women’s own limited horizons.
At BNY Mellon, Karen and her teams have implemented a range of measures to ensure equal opportunity — and equal possibilities to seize those opportunities. These include employee resources groups, which are structured networks where people can gain exposure, professional development and business experience; the “Nine Box Talent Review,” which requires every name in the team to be considered for promotion; and reverse mentoring, which connects senior people with junior people for mutual benefit. The juniors gain exposure to wisdom and experience, while the seniors get to hear the views of recent recruits and what management should be doing to address their concerns.
BNY Mellon has seen a 100% increase in the number of women in the workforce, with 36% of women at the vice president level, 26% at the managing director level, along with 19% of the board of directors being women.