Top Companies for Women: What 3 Best Practices They All Have

The companies with the best data for women in management and senior roles use three best practices most frequently – mentoring, employee-resource groups, and flexible workplaces

Photo by Shutterstock

By Barbara Frankel and Shane Nelson


Photo by Shutterstock

What makes a company a really good place for women to reach their full potential? An analysis of data of The 2015 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity shows the top companies for women all have:

•  Strong, cross-cultural mentoring programs with a high level of senior-executive involvement

•  Active women's employee resource groups, used for recruitment, engagement, leadership training and talent development

•  Flexible workplaces, usually with individualized programs

We examined all the companies that submitted data for the DiversityInc Top 50 survey and found that when looking at results for women, there were 21 companies that really stood out.  They are, in alphabetical order: Abbott, AbbVie, Accenture, Deloitte,  Eli Lilly and Company,EY,Kaiser Permanente, Kellogg Company,KeyCorp, KPMG, Marriott International,MassMutual Financial Group,MasterCard, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation,PricewaterhouseCoopers,Prudential Financial,Target,Time Warner,Sodexo,  Wells Fargo, Wyndham Worldwide.

These companies all have higher demographics for women in management and senior management than U.S. statistics as well as the DiversityInc Top 50 averages. They also have more women on their boards of directors.

                  Women Representation

Management Senior Execs (Top 2 Levels) Boards of Directors
US (EEOC, Catalyst) 29.2% 38.8% 16.9%
Top 50 31.1% 43.7% 25.1%
Top Companies for Women 33.3% 47.8% 28.3%

Diversity-Management Best Practices

Of all the best practices these companies utilize to engage and promote women, formal mentoring is cited most often.

1. Best practices for mentoring –and sponsorship – include:

•  Significant exposure to senior leadership

•  Cross-cultural training before relationship starts for mentor and mentee

•  Formal assessment of success/failure of relationship

•  Tracking mentoring impact on engagement, retention, promotions

Of note, these top companies for women average 51.8 percent manager participation in mentoring, compared with 39.4 percent for the DiversityInc Top 50.

EY embeds cross-cultural mentoring and sponsorship in its leadership and talent-development program for women and other underrepresented groups. EY's Career Watch is a formal, long-term initiative for high-performing Blacks, Latinos, Asians and female managers and senior managers. A person's assignments are reviewed along with existing and potential sponsorship relationships. The firm's Inclusive Leadership Program pairs high-potential performers with executive-board members.

Deloitte has an Emerging Leaders Development Program, which runs for eight months and officially connects high-potential managers from underrepresented groups to formal sponsors, who commit to at least a two-year relationship. Deloitte goes to the protégés and asks whom they would like as a sponsor, factoring in geography, service line, growth opportunities, what gaps the protégé has and where she needs visibility.

2. The second area companies cite is the use of a strong women's employee resource group, which all of these companies have. Best practices for these groups include:

•  Having an executive sponsor on the senior leadership team

•  Including men as full partners

•  Using the groups to assess/find solutions to retention and recruitment challenges

•  Measuring success of group

•  Identifying high potentials and giving training through ERG leadership

At Kellogg Company employee resource groups are increasingly focused on talent development for women. Last year, the Women at Kellogg group held a global forum on "Growing Your Career," with 200 attendees from the United States, Europe and Latin America. President and CEO John Bryant opened the session, which was attended by 30 of the company's most senior executives. The company has also started a Women of Supply Chain group and is thinking of adding Women in Procurement and Women in Sales.

And third, having a very flexible workplace, specifically tailored to the individual needs, goes a long way in retaining and maximizing the potential of women.

3. Best Practices for Workplace Flexibility

•  Have each manager work with employee to understand what best meets their need and the organization's, including telecommuting

•  Have generous maternity, paternity and adoption leave policies

•  Have buddy system for moms either through a mentoring program or an employee resource group

•  Offer workplace accommodations, such as lactation rooms

Time Warner puts a priority on communicating the importance of flexibility to mid-level managers. While the CEO and senior leaders may say they are fine with flexible-work arrangements, 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." The company advocates stronger messaging at every level about the importance of flexibility as a retention/engagement tool. Citing senior executives as role models who use flexible schedules brings the message home.

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