Taking the Next Step

Women who want to advance to the top spot in finance often need a sponsor. Here's why.

In the interest of inclusion, companies with targeted mentorship or sponsorship programs will often offer similar opportunities to all employees. At State Street, the Leading Women program is reserved for rising female executives, but the global mentoring program is open to everyone, regardless of gender. MMC’s mentorship initiative is also open to both genders and all races. Some companies also match executives with mentees based on their interests and backgrounds, not their demographics. This practice can yield more-productive mentorship experiences and can prevent companies from unintentionally excluding someone who might be the best mentor for an employee, MMC’s Wittman says.

Expanding the Roster

To increase diversity, some companies have also changed their hiring practices. Several years ago, MMC executives studied a sample of senior-level external hires and found that the company filled many of these positions by looking only at a single individual, instead of considering a deeper roster, says chief diversity officer Kathryn Komsa. When most senior people know and refer candidates from within their own networks (people who, more likely than not, resemble them), a company never diversifies, she says. To fix this, executives should consider slates of diverse, qualified applicants for each position.

To find these candidates, a company may have to change its approach, Komsa says. Hiring managers who recruit online could post on different sites or connect with employee resource groups or diverse networks within or outside of the company. “To build [a diverse pool of] candidates, you need to reach out in hiring directions where you may not have gone before,” Komsa says. “If you keep going back to the same sources, it’s not going to lead you to diverse candidates.” After diversity officers made an effort to change hiring practices, they studied another group of senior-level external hires a year later. Among this group, they had used candidate slates almost two-thirds of the time.

Many experts say appointing an individual or team to lead diversity initiatives is another way to help qualified women advance through the finance ranks. Making diversity someone’s job yields concrete results, Komsa says. “If you don’t have resources responsible for a business process, it’s not going to happen,” she says. A diversity group or manager can determine “what you’re solving for — what your current state is, what you want your future state to look like, and what levers you need to pull.” For instance, if a company’s main concern is its entry-level pipeline, then its recruiting approach may need to change. If the emphasis is on diversity among senior leadership, the company needs to focus instead on promotions and strategic hiring.

Marriott International, which is known for its successful diversity programs, accomplished this by creating a board committee that monitors gender and ethnic diversity at the hotel chain, says CFO Carl Berquist. Procter & Gamble and MMC also assigned responsibility to a group or manager.

Beyond Training

Diversity-training sessions are one of the most commonly used diversity efforts among companies. But although it is ubiquitous, “diversity training” has become a loaded phrase at many firms — and a subject of frequent mockery. When employees hear that they will have to sit through a day of training, they often roll their eyes, says Wittman.

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