Nicole Eisenberger didn’t realize she was being watched. But after a few years of working at Ernst & Young (E&Y), she understood that there were certain people quietly looking out for her, making sure she didn’t derail her career inadvertently and that the right doors were open for her.
Eisenberger’s been with the Big Four accounting firm for 13 years, and she made partner last July 1. She’s an assurance partner in the New York office, specializing in the real-estate and financial-services industries.
The ‘watchers’ who guided her to success were part of E&Y’s Career Watch program, which identifies manager-level women, Blacks, Latinos, Asians and American Indians who have been at the firm for at least five years and have potential to make partner, a process that generally takes 12 to 14 years. The designated ‘potential partners’ are assigned to top clients, given key sales opportunities and leadership roles and are carefully monitored to make sure they don’t get off track.
A survey of DiversityInc Top 50 companies finds that more than 80 percent of Blacks, Latinos, Asians, American Indians and women who are identified as potential leaders go through their talent-development programs, and that more than 95 percent of those go on to higher levels in the companies. Formal development of talented LGBT people and people with disabilities occurs less frequently at most companies because they often do not self-identify. This is the next level of talent development, and more companies are using their LGBT and disability employee-resource groups to find and develop executive material.
E&Y is just one of the DiversityInc Top 50 companies to develop successful programs to help talented people from traditionally underrepresented groups reach their full potential. Here’s their story:
Ernst & Young has instituted several programs in the last few years to find women, Blacks, Latinos, Asians and American Indians who have potential and help them succeed, says Billie Williamson, partner, Americas Inclusiveness. They include Career Watch, as well as:
- Executive Mentoring Program: A formal mentoring program that pairs high-potential Black, Latino, Asian and American Indian partners and principals with members of the firm’s Americas Executive Board.
- Learning Partnerships: Provides Black, Latino, Asian and American Indian professionals access to senior leaders in both a structured and informal setup. They are matched with partner mentors who are selected based on likes, dislikes and personalities.
- Pathways to Meaningful Partnership: A training program for women, Blacks, Latinos, Asians and American Indians that’s particularly work-oriented—how to make presentations, how to sell, how to be active in the marketplace, how to dress, etc.
- Affinity Groups or People Resource Networks: Provides opportunities for people from similar cultural or ethnic backgrounds to network internally and externally.
- Minority Leadership Conference: An event held every 18 months to bring together partners, principals, executive directors and directors with senior leadership.
- Women’s Leadership Conference: Brings together women executives with the Americas Executive Board and senior male leaders and line partners
- Inclusiveness Learning Curriculum: Training sessions to promote leadership development and specifically inclusiveness.
Williamson has been actively involved in designing these programs, which so far are only for the firm’s North American operations. She’s a ‘career watcher,’ and she says that determining who gets ‘watched’ is a critical annual exercise for senior leadership. She also hopes to expand the programs to include ‘out’ lesbian and gay employees as well as those with both visible and non-visible disabilities.
Eisenberger recalls several real-world instances where these programs helped her hone her skills or even begin to realize she needed improvement. As part of the Pathways Program, for example, she participated in a mock client meeting in which an agenda had been set and planned. The ‘client’ turned the plan around within the first five minutes, leaving Eisenberger scrambling. ‘The biggest realization is that no matter how prepared you are, the client is going to have its own agenda,’ she says.
Another key takeaway from this program, she says, was around partner communications. ‘I’d always seen myself as being rather articulate,’ she says. ‘I learned through my participation in the program that I also had a tendency to be long-winded…I was given coaching that helped me rein it in and be more succinct in my delivery.’
She also notes that female partners have encouraged her and helped her with work/life issues as she manages her career and her four daughters, ages 5 to 15. ‘They’ve made an investment in me and that’s important. I know someone wants me to be successful and I will do my best,’ she says.