Category: Diversity in Leadership

Women’s Resource Groups

There used to be lots of debate about the effectiveness of employee resource groups (ERGs.) These days, most HR experts and business analysts agree that ERGs, when managed correctly, have a positive net effect on the enterprise.

What exactly is an ERG? It’s a group of employees who meet in the workplace based on shared life experiences. The goal is to build their network, share experiences, exchange resources, and support each other. Oftentimes the ERG is comprised of employees who represent a minority within the enterprise: women, people of color, Latino/a, and LBGTQ. An impressive 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs.

photo credit Erin Tunnell

No doubt that employees who are part of a well-managed ERG find value in the meetings. The overall organization benefits, too. As employees in under-represented groups find a sense of inclusion, belonging, and value, they are more likely to stay with the company and some will pursue leadership roles within the organization. According to the 2018 McKinsey study “Delivering through Diversity,” companies with diverse leadership are better able to:

  • Attract top talent
  • Improve customer orientation
  • Increase employee satisfaction
  • Make better decisions

ERGs are not just for the Fortune 500, either. In fact, in small to mid-size companies, an ERG can be launched very quickly. All it may require is a conversation with the CEO, HR, and an outline of why/when/where/how/who. In larger organizations it can take a little more time. Generally speaking, the larger the company, the more likely you are to need a clear charter, schedule, budget, executive sponsorship, and answers for legal counsel regarding risk management.

One sticky question is whether or not the meetings should be open to those who are not part of the group. Operating from a standpoint of inclusiveness, our opinion is a resounding YES. It’s important for all employees to feel they can participate in the discussions, benefit from training, and lend their own opinions. In groups where the meetings are closed, suspicion generally runs high.

If you are thinking of starting an ERG, one of the best things you can do is consult with others who have started down that path.

Momentum hosts quarterly meetings called the Women’s Resource Group Exchange. During these meetings, representatives from a diverse group of companies gather to share their experiences and resources. If interested in attending,  email us for more information. ERGs require some effort to do well, but the pay-off for both employees and the enterprise can be big.

 

Bring in the Men

Part of Momentum’s strategic plan is to expand our efforts to involve men as advocates for women in leadership. We call it “Men with Momentum.” Recently the committee in charge of this initiative designated two representatives from their companies to attend a work group meeting on diversity and inclusion initiatives, graciously hosted by Encompass Health and facilitated by Momentum alumnae Anne Marie Seibel and Crissy Carlisle.

During the workshop participants from BBVA, Bradley, Encompass Health, Protective Life, Southern Research Institute, and UAB shared the metrics and data their companies examine to measure effectiveness of diversity and inclusion programs. Encompass Health and BBVA Compass both presented the data warehouses and reporting tools they use to track metrics such as demographics, hiring outcomes, satisfaction ratings, and retention scores. Beyond the data, the group discussed practices that lead to better outcomes in terms of on-boarding, career advancement, awareness training, and measuring impact.

By the end of our session one thing was very clear: everyone in the room would benefit from regularly scheduled sessions to share experiences. Working together to determine inclusion practices that get results will produce far greater gains than trying get there alone. Momentum is proud to serve as a facilitator and resource for this important work. Our committee will meet again in November to discuss next steps, and you can count on seeing more news about Men with Momentum in 2019!

 

 

 

 

Equality on Independence Day

Photo courtesy of Ishtodo

Reflecting on our celebration of independence on this 4th of July holiday, let’s remember that the Declaration of Independence is predicated first and foremost on the premise of equality.  Now in our 242nd year since that declaration was signed, many groups of people in this country that should be governed “for the people, by the people” are still woefully under-represented in public office, still suffer social injustice, and experience profound economic inequalities. That said, our history shows progress. Among the legislative milestones:

  • Abolition of slavery, 1865
  • African-American (male) right to vote, 1870
  • Women’s right to vote, 1920
  • Civil Rights Act, 1964
  • Equal Rights Amendment, 1972*
  • Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990

Of these milestones, it is worth noting that only the Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees the “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” has failed to become law. The ERA was reintroduced before Congress in 1982, and has been introduced again every year since then. Passage of the ERA requires a 2/3 majority vote in Congress and ratification by at least 38 states.  In May of this year, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the ERA, although five states who previously ratified it have rescinded their ratification. The struggle is real!

Opposition to the ERA is largely based on the argument that the proposed language would eradicate much of the “protection of women” under current law. Chief among these, and the most inflammatory in our political climate, is the argument that passage of the ERA would be used to roll back current restrictions on abortion, the role of women in combat, the separation of public restrooms/locker rooms, etc. Each of these is political speculation, but certainly effective in suppressing ratification.

Some believe that the protection of women is already guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. Whether you agree with that or believe that the ERA should be ratified and signed into law, the debate underscores the great extent to which men in power, whether for or against ratification, are still making the decisions on what women can and cannot do for their livelihood, their families, and their health.

Evidence that women are far from equal in this country abounds:

We clearly have a lot of work to do to advance women in leadership and to shape policy that will protect women, their families, and the economic outlook for our country. In the next month, Momentum will present a new three-year strategic plan to our Board of Directors. Together we can greatly improve conditions for the women in our state through engaging men in determining policy, developing leadership in emerging women leaders, collecting the data to show our problem areas and progress going forward, and unifying our strength as women leaders in service to our communities.

Happy Independence Day.

 

The ABCs of Breaking Bias

I recently attended a lecture hosted by the Athena Collective entitled the ABCs of Breaking Bias. The guest speaker was Dr. Stefanie Johnson, from the University of Colorado at Boulder. This is such an important topic, because understanding unconscious bias, and how we can keep it in check, is fundamental to getting the best talent to take on the challenges in our companies, organizations and communities.

I was glad to see that the audience was made up of men and women of many ethnic backgrounds and ages. Dr. Johnson helped us all to see that unconscious bias is in all of us. It is primal, rooted in the tendency of humans to observe the world around them and unconsciously use the data collected to make thousands of micro-decisions every day–decisions that may or may not be sound, depending on that individual’s experiences. Women exhibit gender bias just as men do. Minorities make biased decisions based on race each day. No one can be totally free of unconscious bias, but Dr. Johnson presented four easy ways to rein it in with her “ABCs” of breaking bias:

A is for Admit it. As mentioned above, we all exhibit unconscious bias, so let’s just admit it without blame or shame. I would add to the A-list two more words: raise awareness when you observe unconscious bias and address it.

B is for Blind it. The Boston Symphony became the poster-child for blinding unconscious bias when it began using blind auditions in an effort to test gender bias on its hiring of musicians. They started by holding auditions behind a curtain, and even went so far as to have musicians remove their shoes, since the clicking of women’s heels even tipped off the hiring committee as to their gender. The result ? The blind auditions increased a woman’s chances of moving past the first audition by 50%, and accounts for 30% of female new hires, according to a research study in the American Economic Review. Similar “blinding actions” can be taken by companies, educational institutions, and healthcare professionals by removing names and other bias-tipping factors from resumes, reviews, records and recommendations.

C is for Count it. What gets measured gets done, so if we can quantify how unconscious bias negatively affects our workplaces, we can make the case for change. For example, tracking metrics on the diversity of candidates before and after implementing blind screening practices can be a great way to demonstrate that unconscious bias exists. It’s equally important to show data to motivate policy makers to  invest in a more diverse talent pool. Fortunately, an increasing number of reliable research studies point to strong correlations between diversity positive key performance indicators.

S is for Support it. Humans find safety in sameness, so human nature causes us to surround ourselves with people like us. Yet we know that it’s the diversity of any ecosystem that defines its strength and longevity. Workplaces, educational institutions, and communities are no exception. One of the most frequently cited studies supporting diversity is Why Diversity Matters from McKinsey & Company. While the study asserts that the link between diversity and high performance is a correlation, and not necessarily causation, there is a very strong, logical case that diversity gets more talent to the table and helps teams avoid “group think” in important decisions.

Even if we stop short of making sweeping organizational changes to address unconscious bias, each on of us can check our own biases on a daily basis. For example, when describing a person, how often do you include details about gender, race, or age, even when they are absolutely irrelevant to your story? Double-check that you are not somehow implying something unintentional. Consider the images conjured in your mind when you read the following:

  • I was behind this old guy parking his car.
  • I was behind this woman parking her car.
  • I was behind this black man parking his car.
  • I was behind a business man parking his car.

Based on the fact that the speaker qualified who was parking the car, we immediately form a stereotype of the story to follow. Having qualified who was parking the car may reinforce the unconscious bias that an old person, woman, or black man would not park a car as well as the business man, when in fact, those things have nothing to do with that individuals ability to park a car. Why not simply say, “I was behind this person parking their car and noticed that the gas cap was open.”

Admit bias, blind it, count it and support efforts to counter it. Dr. Johnson’s “ABCs” for breaking bias are great building blocks for more diversity in our workplaces and communities.

 

 

 

Women’s History Month

Today marks the first day of Women’s History Month. I have actually been asked by my own son why we need a whole month dedicated to women’s history or black history? Why don’t we just have a history month? Deep breaths. “We celebrate women’s history month and black history month because history, as we have learned it, is white male. It is written by white males and documents the achievements of white males. The contributions of minorities like black people and all women, who often achieved great things despite their repression, are rarely noted or celebrated. Having a dedicated history month helps to rectify that.” He seemed satisfied enough with that answer.

During the month of March we’ll post on the achievements of women, particularly right here in Alabama. At each biennial Momentum conference, we recognize women leaders who have made a significant contribution to community, business, culture or politics. The 2018 awards were held this past Wednesday and honored six new women with a Woman of Impact award. You can meet the new honorees, and each of our past honorees, here.

Last year we interviewed five of our sixteen honorees to get their stories and advice on film. Here are a few inspiring clips from that project.

 

 

Celebrating Careers of Women of Color

In honor of black history month, and on the cusp of women’s history month, we salute the women who overcome a long history of bias, prejudice, and discrimination to succeed in their careers. According to a 2015 study by the Center for American Progress, a stunning 70% of mothers in black families are the main bread-winner for their families (compared to 24.7% of white mothers and 40.5% of Latina mothers.) At the same time, black women experience a wider pay gap than white women compared to white men (black women earn 63% of when compared to white men, where white women earn 75% of what white men earn.)

To level the playing field, much has to be done to raise awareness and train employers on the gaps that exist. Those cultural shifts can take a long time. Updating workplace policy is the other piece in the engine of progress. Ensuring that employees have access to paid sick leave and family leave has shown to increase participation in the labor force and reduce reliance on public assistance for women who still carry most of the burden of caring for children and aging parents. We also need employers to regularly educate management on unconscious bias in hiring, managing and promoting minorities.

In the 2017 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and the Lean In organization, women of color are the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline. The study asserts that gender and race are inseparable, and that companies need to dig deeper into the experiences of women of color when shaping their unconscious bias training and employee management policies.

Rosilyn Houston, BBVA Compass

Rosilyn Houston is Senior Executive VP and Chief Talent & Cultural Executive for BBVA Compass and a Momentum alumna. She had these thoughts to share for this post:

“The stats McKinsey recently released are undeniable truths. Now that we know the facts what are we going to do about it to bring about change? Black women have to jump multiple hurdles and run through walls that may not exist for non-blacks as we face both unconscious and conscious bias in the workplace. 

This is not just a black woman challenge, it is a challenge for all of us. Just as we need white men to be interested in gender equity in high places in our organizations, we need all men and women to recognize the struggles of women from all cultures and do some things differently. 

I propose the following:

1) Hire a talented and qualified black woman to lead on your immediate team. 
2) Mentor and/or sponsor a black woman leader.
3) Advocate for and introduce a talented black woman leader to your network. 

All talented and hardworking women deserve the opportunity to bring her best into the workplace and to impact an organization’s bottom line. Black women need the support and opportunity to work on high risk projects, be exposed to key leaders, and mentorship. In my opinion, working together to take tangible steps to change the status quo is what we need to to close the gap and walk the talk.”

Deb Grimes, UAB

Working women of color especially benefit from the support of other women to embrace who they are. Momentum alumna Deb Grimes, Chief Diversity Officer at UAB, offers this advice: “Being a women of color is not about comparing yourself to others, it’s about focusing on your uniqueness and encouraging others to do the same. Always remember, you are too awesome to just fit in…dare to be different!”

The upcoming Momentum leadership conference is focused on the theme “Better Together, Uniting Leaders.” To make real progress toward workplaces that reflect the diversity of the population, we have to come together to champion the advantages. We need men to support the advancement of women. We need white women to support the advancement of black women. We need black women support the advancement of Latina women. We all need to triple-check our unconscious bias and commit to supporting top talent in leadership roles.

 

Women on Boards

April Benetollo, CEO Momentum

One of the goals on my personal development plan when I was in Momentum was to serve on a nonprofit board. I had no prior board experience, but with the encouragement of my co-mentoring group and a little networking I easily found my way. I realized within a few board meetings that I could have, and should have, pursued the board opportunity earlier. Nonprofits, schools, universities and small businesses can all benefit from a diverse board to advise, strategize, and get things done. The board members benefit too. My board service at Children’s of Alabama committee for the future, TechBirmingham, TechAlabama, UAB’s Collat School of Business Sales and Marketing, and UAB’s School of Engineering IEM board, has enriched my life in three ways:

  1. Expanded my network. Through board service I’ve gotten to know close to one hundred local professionals. I make a habit of connecting with them on LinkedIn. I can rely on this network as a sounding board for new ideas, make connections between people with similar business interests, and get feedback when I have a particular issue or question.
  2. Gained confidence. No matter how confident I think I am, I still can have that little voice inside that wonders if I really know what I think I know. Testing your ideas and strategy at the board level is very validating, because your fellow board members are smart, they are equally committed to the cause, and more objective than traditional co-workers.
  3. Made great friends. By volunteering for projects and committees I have gotten to know quite a few fellow board members on a personal level, and those friendships live on. My career and family do not leave a lot of time for forging new friendships, so uncovering these as a result of board service has been a real bonus.

One thing I have noticed is the lack of women on boards. I’ve also noticed that sometimes the women at the table do not volunteer their ideas as often as the men, particularly if there are a lot more men than women at the table. I’ve read a lot of studies and stats on women and board service and it boils down to this: women are half the US population, women earn 57% of bachelor’s degrees, 62% of masters degrees, and 53% of Phd, medical and law degrees. Representation by women on boards in the United States–whether you look at public, private, nonprofit, or particular industries–is generally below 20%.

There are many reasons behind the gender gap at the board level. Board seats usually go to individuals who hold top positions in their organizations, the positions just beyond the proverbial glass ceiling. Unconscious bias (something men and women have) in hiring, managing and promoting women throughout their careers is a primary contributing factor. Women are also tapped out, since they often have to work harder to be recognized at work, and also carry more of the load at home, particularly working mothers.

The good news is that we see a lot more data in the last few years about the benefits of a diverse board, including gender diversity, for boards of directors. We’ll be exploring this topic during our “Women on Corporate Boards” session, with facilitator Major General Lee Price and four outstanding panelists at the  Momentum Leadership Conference in February. I look forward to posting some insights from that panel in March. Stay tuned.

Two Powerful Keynotes in One Day

Momentum is excited to bring two amazing and inspiring women to the Birmingham community as our keynote speakers at the February 28th leadership conference.

Luncheon keynote Carey Lohrenz is the first female F-14 Tomcat Fighter Pilot in the U.S. Navy. Breakfast keynote Bonnie St. John is the first African-American to bring home medals in the Winter Paralympic games.

Our conference theme, Better Together │ Uniting Leaders, will be well-supported by these speakers.

 

Carey Lohrenz knows what it takes to win in one of the highest pressure, extreme environments imaginable: in the cockpit at Mach 2. Having flown missions worldwide as a combat-mission-ready United States Navy pilot, Lohrenz is used to working in fast moving, dynamic environments, where inconsistent execution can generate catastrophic results. The same challenges are found in business: markets change, customer needs evolve and if you do not adapt quickly your company is at risk.

Carey’s experience in the all-male environment of fighter aviation allow her to deliver insight and guidance from a wide range of leadership perspectives, with broad appeal to women and men in the audience.

 

Despite having her right leg amputated at age five, Bonnie St. John became the first African-American ever to win medals in Winter Olympic competition, taking home a silver and two bronze medals in downhill events at the 1984 Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria.

In recognition of this historic achievement, St. John was quoted on millions of Starbucks coffee cups and was honored at the White House by President George W. Bush. In addition to her success as a Paralympic athlete, she is a best-selling author of seven books. St. John’s most recent book, Micro-Resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive and Energy, outlines a quick, easy and immediately effective program of tools and techniques to give you a competitive edge in today’s dynamic world of changes and challenges.

Online registration for the conference is open now, with early bird rates through January 5th.  There are group discounts for tables of eight, so bring your team or passionate professionals in your personal network.  Seating is limited and is expected to sell out.

Momentum has received generous funding from two Benefactor sponsors to secure the keynote speakers: UAB Medicine and Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. The keynote speakers will be presented by conference co-chairs, Dr. Cheri Canon from UAB Medicine and Laura Oberst from Wells Fargo.

Dr. Canon is Professor and Chair of Radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  Dr. Canon received the American Board of Radiology’s (ABR) Lifetime Service Award in 2013, and was appointed to the ABR Board of Trustees in 2016. Dr. Canon is a graduate of Momentum’s 2006-07 class, is President Elect of the Momentum Alumnae Program Board of Directors, and a Scholarship member of Momentum’s Honor Roll of Women’s Leadership.  “My Momentum experience was transformative,” says Canon. “The program instilled in me the value of mentorship and a desire to advance women leaders; this conference provides the perfect platform for that.”

 

Laura Oberst is an Executive Vice President and head of Wells Fargo Bank’s Business Banking Group. Based in Minneapolis, she oversees more than 4,700 team members at 450 locations in 41 U.S. states.  Laura serves on the board of directors for HealthPartners, Inc., the Greater MSP Economic Development Partnership, and the North Dakota Trade Office.  A long-standing supporter of developing women’s careers, she has been actively involved in Minnesota Women’s Economic Roundtable and Deloitte’s 100 Wise Women initiative.  In 2015, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal awarded Laura its Women in Business award.

 

We are honored to have these highly accomplished women to serve as our 2018 conference co-chairs. Our co-chairs play a vital role in the success of the conference, from keynote selection and conference planning, to addressing our 800 conference attendees during the event. Cheri Canon and Laura Oberst will certainly deliver with a balance of graciousness and gravitas!

Why Diversity Matters

In 2015, McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, released a study entitled Diversity Matters. The study examined data from 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom, and the United States. All numerical results pointed to one fact: diversity is a driver of success.

Companies who ranked in the top 25% for diversity outperformed the norms for financial returns for their industry. In fact, the top 25 most ethnically diverse companies were 35% more likely to have financial returns above the industry norm than the bottom quartile or 25% least ethnically diverse companies. The top 25% for most gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns above the industry norm than the bottom quartile or 25% least gender diverse.

Of course, diversity does not automatically translate into profit, but diverse leadership signals successful characteristics within a company.

But why? Because diverse companies are better equipped to do three things:

  1. Recruit and retain top talent because people see leaders & co-workers who look like them, creating a more comfortable and secure work environment.
  2. Better understand and serve customers, because the people who work there reflect the communities and markets they’re in.
  3. Avoid group-think and engage in healthy conflict with a diversity of backgrounds and opinions represented for better decisions.

It seems simple. However, unconscious bias often sways companies to hire employees who look and act like them. This makes it difficult to hire based on true talent instead of stereotypes.

The key to avoiding unconscious bias seems to be awareness. That key factor applies to absolutely everyone, (check out this interesting Ted Talk entitled “White Men: Time to Discover Your Cultural Blind Spots”).

Can we truly learn to see people as simply people, allowing their talent to shine above their skin color, gender, or sexual orientation? While much progress has been made, there is still much work to do. We must continue to step outside of our comfort zone to create a culture of acceptance and success. While incredibly simple, the process is difficult. However, the results are ultimately achievable and definitely desirable.

Facetime with Jenifer Kimbrough

One of the greatest things about Momentum is the powerful alumnae network. Periodically we interview these amazing women about their experience in our program.

Jenifer Goforth Kimbrough serves as Chief Financial Officer at Oakworth Capital Bank. She has over 20 years of financial services experience which includes serving banking, broker/dealer and insurance clients with Ernst & Young, serving as the director of investor relations at Regions Financial Corporation, and serving on the Board of Directors and as chair of the Audit Committee for a publicly traded property/casualty insurance company. Jenifer graduated from the University of Alabama in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science in Commerce and Business Administration, receiving her CPA certificate soon after.

Additionally, Jenifer has served as the national president of the American Woman’s Society of CPAs and on the AICPA’s Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee. She has served in numerous community volunteer leadership positions including on the Boards of the Junior League of Birmingham, the Mountain Brook PTO Council, and the Ranger PTO.  She teaches Sunday School at Canterbury United Methodist Church and is active with her alma mater, currently serving on The University of Alabama’s Accounting Advisory Board and as a Culverhouse Connections mentor for young women in accounting. Jenifer completed Momentum’s executive leadership program as part of Class Four in 2006. 

What did you gain from your MOMENTUM experience?

More than anything, Momentum gave me a fantastic network of friends and leaders.  That includes members of my own Momentum class as well as other Momentum alumnae.  When you learn that someone that you’ve never met before is a Momentum alumna, there is an instant connection and familiarity between the two of you – I love that!  I also learned to breathe…we have to take time to reflect and recharge.

What is one piece of leadership advice you have been given that has helped you in your career?

Years ago I worked for a partner at Ernst & Young who I  respected immensely, and who counseled me to “paddle your own canoe.”   Don’t worry about anybody else, what opportunities or accolades or financial benefit they may have been given that you weren’t.  Just worry about you and doing the absolute best you can do every day and in every situation. The rest will take care of itself.

What challenges do you think the next generation of women leaders face?

The next generation of women leaders will face a lot of the same challenges we face today!  That said, they will need to figure out what success really means to them (as opposed to someone else’s definition) and then how to go about making it happen.  The pace of change today, driven mainly by technology,  is incredible.  It will require more vision and creativity than ever before to play within a new and ever-changing set of rules in order to stay in front of that change as opposed to trying to fit an existing product or service or idea into a much different paradigm.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you tell your 18 year old self?

I would say so much!  Here are a few things:  One, to learn as much as I could about what people do and how they do it by asking lots of questions.  Two, to take that knowledge and recognize that I have the opportunity to create my own unique reality over time.  Three, to really appreciate that every human being has something unique and special to offer no matter what package they come wrapped in.

What three words do you think should characterize every leader?

Integrity, Empathy, Visionary

How do you find balance in your career, home, and community life?

For me, the pursuit of career, home, community balance starts with the big picture of knowing what is really important to me in all of the aspects of my life. From there I make sure all decisions, big and small, are consistent with those priorities.

Is there a book that has been helpful to you in your career? If so, please share the title and author.

The book I always seem to come back to is Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.  It’s a simple, common sense approach that applies to every endeavor.

Is there anything else you would like to share? Advice you would like to give women in leadership?

Things I’ve been taught from those I was fortunate enough to be “brought along” by….

  • do your best to be your authentic self as you lead
  • remind yourself what it’s like to be led
  • make sure you’d be willing to do anything you ask someone else to do
  • always have someone (or “someones”) you’re bringing along behind you