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5 Tips for Keeping High-Potential Women

February 25, 2014 5:14 pm

By Barbara Frankel and Eve Tahmincioglu


How Do You Hold On to Mid-Career Women?Companies need more than just flexible work programs in order to keep high-potential women in their 30s and 40s.

We interviewed five very different companies that have found five proven ways to keep the pipeline full of future women leaders—EY, AT&T, Kellogg, Time Warner, Eli Lilly and Company and Monsanto, Nos. 4, 13, 32, 33, 35 and 42, respectively, on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity.

Here are our Top Five solutions based on their input:

  1. 1. Onboard & Promote Support

Thear Suzuki

After Thear Suzuki started with EY nearly four years ago she joined EY after 16 years with another firm, she was able to join Unplugged, an onboarding program that helps Blacks, Latinos and Asians acclimate in their first year.

The program, created in 2011, brings together ethnically diverse staff from across the country within the first four months of hire and minority executives in order to provide networking and mentoring.

Suzuki, who has four children and is now Advisory Services Principal with EY found the program invaluable. “I’m an Asian woman. I didn’t grow up in my profession seeing a lot of role models.” EY Unplugged, she explained, “was authentic and transparent about how you make it work. It made all the difference for me.”

Also consider employee resource groups for women, to promote a more supportive environment for them to advance.

Sammie Long, Kellogg Company

Sammie Long

Kellogg has strong employee resource groups in the United States and is looking to make the women’s group global, says Sammie Long, Senior Vice President, Global Human Resources. As a first step, last September the Women at Kellogg group held a global forum on Growing Your Career, with 200 attendees from the United States, Europe and Latin America.

  1. 2. Crush the Guilt

High potential women are often harder on themselves than their managers.

Karole Lloyd, EY

Karole Lloyd

“What I find many times is that our people are so demanding of themselves that we need to help them see what they can achieve,” said Karole Lloyd, EY Vice Chair, and Regional Managing Partner for Southeast.

She shared an example of a woman, 39, who had worked for EY for 13 years and went on maternity leave. When she came back, she wanted to be a partner but was struggling with “how to do it all.”

Lloyd helped her focus on doing her job while at work and not worrying about it when at home. “We told her that 32 hours of you is better than you leaving the firm,” she explained.

“It’s about helping individuals get over the guilt when the rest of their team is working 60 hours.”

Karyn Twaronite

Karyn Twaronite

added Karyn Twaronite, Partner and Americas Inclusiveness Officer for EY.

Women women often feel like impostors, she said, adding, “We have to focus on all they are doing, not the negative.”

  1. 3. Rethink Relocation, Travel

Moving and significant travel can cause anxiety for many mid-level women, especially those that have young children.

Juan Ferreira, Monsanto

Juan Ferreira

To deal with this, Monsanto, for example, has tried to be more flexible with its travel requirements and assesses the different cultural needs of women working in various regions. “We are rethinking this,” said Juan Ferreira, Vice President, Global Marketing, Global Crop Protection, Global Technology Development. “We are trying to find regions of sales in a country where travel is closer,” noting strategies such as planning travel so a sales manager only needs to be on the road two out of every four weeks.

As far as making a big move, employers have to think about how such a change can impact employees even if the change is a promotion.

Debbie Storey, AT&T

Debbie Storey

“We find a lot women just aren’t prepared,” said Debbie Storey, Senior Vice President of Talent Development and Chief Diversity Officer; Belinda Grant-Anderson, Vice President, Workforce Development & Diversity with AT&T. “They worry that if they don’t accept it, their career will stall but it’s difficult because of their husband’s career. We need to start having these conversations at every milestone—to get them thinking and talking about what moving means.”

AT&T has also created a World of Women portal that offers a multitude of resources around its hub cities—Dallas, Atlanta and parts of New Jersey—that offer information on best places to live, where the good schools are, childcare options, doctors, etc. It also enables them to connect with other women who have undertaken similar moves. “It takes a lot of the fear of the unknown away,” Storey noted.

  1. 4. Bring Work-Life Out of Shadows

As women climb the ladder of success, or look to do so, work-life issues sometimes get brushed aside for fear such demands could hurt their chances for advancement.

This means, employers have to be more direct about how work is impacting home life.

Kellogg works to adapt flexibility to the needs of the individual, said Long. The company also asks its employees: “What is the one thing we could do to support you in your work/life?”

This has led the company to realize it needs more support in certain areas, such as trailing spouses, especially globally. “Families move—it isn’t just one person,” she said.

While the CEO and senior leaders may say they are fine with flexible-work arrangements, said Jonathan Beane, Executive Director, Workforce Diversity & Inclusion for Time Warner, there are managers who then say, “I’m old school and I’m not comfortable with this. I want my team to come to the office.”

Jonathan Beane, Time Warner

Jonathan Beane

Beane advocates stronger messaging at every level about the importance of flexibility as a retention/engagement tool. Using senior executives as role models who use flexible schedules would be an excellent way to bring the message home, he added.

  1. 5. Spotlight Successful Woman

Everyone can benefit from having role models to emulate, but too often women don’t have lots of examples of successful women readily available.

“I totally underestimated the need for people in their 30s and 40s to see that there were women in their leadership who did have the capabilities and weren’t exhausted all the time,” said EY’s Lloyd.

Lloyd, who has been with the firm for 35 years, cites the Inclusiveness Leadership Program, which pairs high-performing partners with an Americas executive board member for mentoring.

Eli Lillly and Company is one company focused on showcasing such female role models.

The company tries to feature women leaders and its female development programs around the world on its intranet, explains Janice Chavers, Director, Diversity and HR Communications. As an example, she cited an article on Irma Tragesser, who grew up in Mexico and moved to Indianapolis.


Ima Tragesser

Ima Tragesser

er, a Consultant in Global Patient Outcomes and Real World Evidence, found support at Lilly through the employee resource group Organization of Latinos (OLA).

“When I moved here [to get married], everybody said Lilly was a great place to work for and they were right,” Tragesser said. “The affinity group and the Connecting Hearts program have had a major personal impact on me.”