Category: Management

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.


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.

Redefining Work-Life “Balance”

Anne Marie Seibel, partner at Bradley

Momentum Alumna Anne Marie Seibel recently published a chapter in the book, “Her Story: Lessons in Success from Lawyers Who Live It.” Anne Marie should know. She is a very successful complex litigation partner in multi-forum, multi-plantiff cases at Bradley law firm. She is active in both professional and local communities, married to a research physician, and mother of two (read her impressive bio here.) How does she balance it all? As she explains in the book, she doesn’t. In fact, she doesn’t even try.

Here are three key take-aways from her chapter:

Ban balancing.
As Anne Marie explains in the book, her goal is to manage all aspects of life, not balance them. When you are ambitious, there will always be more things you want to do than you have resources to accomplish. Life is not about striking the perfect balance, it’s about prioritizing goals and making tough decisions with limited resources. Anne Marie advises professionals to “spend time allocating the available resources to cover the responsibilities you have” so that you can focus fully on whatever task is at hand, knowing the other important priorities are covered.

Take the long view.
There are many paths to success, and no particular time-table for achieving them. Time is one of the constraints we all have, and at least that’s a level playing field. Anne Marie advises “managing your own expectations and developing reasonable definitions of success.” One of the most important demands on time comes when you have children. Anne Marie cautions against viewing motherhood on one side and career on the other. Instead, she suggests looking at the role of a working parent as a conductor, “asking the wind section to play more loudly while the strings provide the background,” she writes. “All you are doing is adjusting the mix at any given point in time.”

Choose the right team.
Every good manager knows how important the team is to long term success. Choosing a spouse or partner who genuinely shares your life goals, supports you at work, and does their share at home. Beyond your life partner, you need the right team at work, too. Get to know your colleagues well, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, and always lend a hand when they need it. Be transparent about your long-term plan and any changes in priorities, goals, and resources. The more your colleagues understand all of your priorities, the more they can empathize and support you on your journey. Finally, says Anne Marie, “develop genuine networks of support–not comparison.” It’s senseless to spend time comparing isolated aspects of life and career with those of colleagues. It’s far better to seek others of “varied life experience and age” to gain from their perspective, and from their support.

In closing, Anne Marie reminds us: “When others ask how you are balancing it all, be sure to answer, ‘I’m managing just fine, thank you.'”


Change through micro decision-making

Kayleigh is a college junior and marketing intern at Momentum.

Recently, Fortune published an article entitled “Sallie Krawcheck: Why Corporate America Will Never ‘Get’ Diversity.” Sallie Krawcheck is an incredibly influential business woman in corporate America.  In her article, Sallie Krawcheck attempts to explain why workplace equality fails to grow in the midst of growing awareness. She says,

“Here’s my theory: We tend to talk about the advancement of women as a macro issue—something to be tackled by corporations, industries, society. But in reality, so much of it comes down to the micro.”

She goes on to describe micro forces that hold diversity back and micro decisions that have the potential to push diversity forward. Micro forces include bosses and our individual implicit bias. Micro decisions can be anything from supporting organizations that are “doing it right” to starting your own business. Sallie Krawcheck argues we can only combat micro forces with micro decisions.

photo via

Sallie Krawcheck’s thought process behind diversity in the workplace intrigued me. Building diversity is one of the core values at her company, Ellevest. Through that difficult process, Sallie Krawcheck has come to realize that true power comes from the everyday decisions women like you and me make.  If that is the case, then ask yourself this: what am I doing to implement my values into my daily decision-making? How am I pushing forward the mission I believe in?

At the end of the day, we can only be responsible for our own actions. Change starts small, but it has the power to grow into something quite dramatic. Start with you. Step into a mentoring role. Start the negotiation you have been shying away from. Find a network of people who hold similar values as you. Move in a direction that compliments the change you would like to see in the workplace. Change requires tenacity, but don’t be afraid to chase after it.

Potential Paid Leave Program

Kayleigh is a college junior and marketing intern at Momentum.

Ivanka Trump, a working young mother, proposed a $25 billion federal paid leave program as part of the president’s budget plan, according to the Washington Post. As of right now, the United States is the only developed country that does not guarantee new mothers or fathers a single day of paid time off. The proposal would guarantee six weeks of paid time off, which is less than other developed countries, but it is still progress.

Each state would be responsible for designing and running their own programs. So far, only California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey offer new parent benefits, with New York and Washington D.C. in the works.

As of today, workers in the United States can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after a birth, as long as they’ve worked at a company that employs at least 50 people for a year. Currently, 58 percent of American companies replace at least some wages during maternity leave, and only 12 percent cover some leave for dads.  The proposal includes working mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents. The inclusion of men in the proposal encourages equal responsibility in family planning.

Business leaders are hesitant to absorb the expense of paid leave, but there is value in providing financial support for mothers due to the research suggesting a large reduction in employee turnover.

Photo Cred:

The government’s initiative to improve benefits for working women by offering paid leave encourages me. The issue is gaining valued attention, since it would traditionally be addressed by Democrats and opposed by Republicans. As I begin my career, I don’t want to feel as if I am compromising work for my family, or vice versa. The paid leave program could create a sense of security for working mothers in the United States.  I am grateful this is a topic of discussion in the White House. It shows the importance of having women like Ivanka Trump in positions of power. Women who will acknowledge gender issues and work against them.


Middle-School View On Glass Ceiling

April Benetollo, Momentum

A student at my daughter’s middle school interviewed me yesterday for a research paper on the proverbial glass ceiling. As I answered her questions, I couldn’t help thinking about where her generation will find glass ceilings. According to a joint study by Deloitte and the American Alliance for Board Diversity, the total number of women on Fortune 100 boards of directors increased from 16.9% in 2004 to 23% in 2016. That’s a very modest gain given the emphasis on diversity in the last decade. And those are the biggest corporations in America.

photo cred:

As you get into the Fortune 500, Fortune 1000 and beyond, the numbers look much worse. At this rate, gender parity at the board of directors level won’t happen in the Fortune 100 until my daughter and her friend are 27 years old. And the chances of parity further down the corporate chain are even further off.

The key to change is awareness for the powers that be, and getting that awareness to translate into changes in training and policy across the organization.

The factors that contribute to the glass ceiling are complex. Here are three of the top issues I see as contributing to barriers that prevent women from those top executive positions.

  1. People in power tend to recruit, train, and promote people who look, think and behave the way they do. This well-known sociological pattern is at the root of why white men, who have been in power for centuries, select young males similar to themselves to mentor, sponsor, train and promote.
  2. Sociological behavior is slow to evolve. Women gained the right to vote less than 100 years ago. Many employment practices, pay policies, and bank lending rules unfairly discriminated against women for decades (some persist today.) For instance, until The Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988,  a woman still had to have a man present at the bank to co-sign for a business loan in many states.
  3. Implicit bias is a frequent occurrence the workplace, politics, education, and even healthcare. Implicit bias affects many groups, and is often based on gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. Women often need to prove themselves more than men, due to the implicit bias that they are inferior. Women are often passed over for choice projects or promotions due to the bias that they cannot handle the work. Women that do manage to reach positions near the top are often perceived as ruthless, bossy, or power-hungry for the same hardball behavior as their male counterparts when tough decisions must be made. In hiring, education, and healthcare there are many studies that show that simply changing the names of the applicants from female to male dramatically increases their chances of getting admitted to an interview, a school, or a health study.

Men and women at the top perpetuate the policies that lead to a glass ceiling (yes, women at the top can be as guilty of discriminating practices as their male counterparts.) Men and women in positions of power must work together to:

  • understand the issues
  • provide training
  • shape policies

that ensure that their best talent, regardless of gender, makes it to the top!


Three Benefits to Resource Groups

Kayleigh is a college sophomore and marketing intern at Momentum.

Women in the workplace face some unique challenges, such as implicit bias and carrying a disproportionate load in balancing work and family. As women move up the ranks, there are increasingly fewer other women to talk with about how to solve these challenges.

Some companies set up Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to reduce the isolation among certain groups of employees. When ERGs are done well, they are an important avenue for employees to connect, share common experiences, discuss constructive ways to overcome challenges, and find support. Depending on the size of the company, ERGs may be very structured or somewhat organic and informal. When the intent is engagement and inclusion, ERGs can be very successful.

Here are three ways Employee Resource Groups are beneficial:

1. ERGs improve retention.

One key reason employees leave companies is because they feel disconnected. The desire for relationship is innate, so building genuine relationships with coworkers is important for retention. ERGs give employees a place to feel connected, heard, and understood by investing in one another. Building workplace friendships increases teamwork, morale, knowledge-sharing, and open communication.

2. ERGs engage employees.

Strengths of minority employees can go unnoticed when employees are disengaged due to isolation. ERGs cut across functional and departmental lines, providing opportunities to share experiences in a highly interactive way. When employees feel connected and their strengths are recognized, engagement goes up. When employees are engaged, they are more productive, more satisfied at work, and increase their confidence level.

3. ERGs nurture talent.

Women are less likely to receive executive sponsorship. ERGs provide professional development and guidance for members, an opportunity that could otherwise be unavailable for women. Structured ERGs provide training and resources to members who may not be getting that level of guidance from their direct supervisor. As an extra bonus, when senior level managers participate in ERGs it essentially scales their potential to act as an executive sponsor to a greater number of individuals. Outstanding participants in the ERG are likely to get noticed by senior managers, who may in turn take a special interest in helping them fast-track their career.

Reducing isolation among minority groups is key to engaging, retaining, and developing the top talent among them. ERGs, when done well, can be a great way to make sure talented employees stay connected and get the development training they deserve. When focused on engagement and inclusion, ERGs can really make a positive difference.


Making Merit-Based Systems Work

Kayleigh is a college sophomore and marketing intern at Momentum.

Companies often champion meritocracy, touting promotion and reward based solely on good work. The commitment to meritocracy is often used to justify a lack of policies that support diversity. If people are evaluated for their skills, abilities, and merit alone, then factors such as gender and race should not contribute to executive decision making. However, merit-driven systems often trigger biases instead of preventing them.

Our last few blog posts focused on bias in the workplace in regards to gender, ethnicity, and age– emphasizing the importance of removing biases and leading together so businesses leverage top talent for maximum results. This topic will be further explored during Momentum’s biennial breakfast with keynote speaker Dr. Heather Foust-Cummings.

Emilio J. Castilla, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, researched how meritocratic ideals play out in organizations…and reached some unexpected conclusions. In Castilla’s analysis, women, ethnic minorities, and non-US-born employees received a smaller increase in compensation compared with white men, despite holding the same jobs, working in the same units, having the same supervisors, the same human capital, and importantly, receiving the same performance score.

Upon further research with Indiana University sociology professor Stephen Bernard, each experiment found that in companies emphasizing meritocratic values, those in managerial positions awarded a larger monetary reward to the male employee than to an equally performing female employee. Castilla and Bernard termed their counter-intuitive result “the paradox of meritocracy.”

The concept of meritocracy can work, but it requires equal attention to training, systems and policies to make sure that implicit biases are not working against the merit-based practices. When executives implement a merit-based performance system, they tend to lose focus on biased decisions that may also come into play. When companies implement a merit-based system alongside training and policies to prevent implicit biases, they see positive outcomes.

After five years, Emilio J. Castilla reanalyzed data after a company created a performance-reward committee to monitor compensation increases and sharing information with top management about pay broken down by gender, race, and foreign nationality. The demographic pay gap disappeared.

The collection and analysis of data on people-related processes and outcomes–termed “people analytics”– is key to enabling companies to identify and correct workplace biases. Building awareness among managers about how implicit bias can affect their “merit-based” evaluations is key to retaining the best top talent. True meritocracy is then possible, allowing the most productive and efficient employees to rise to the top.


Millennial Strengths Add to Diversity

Kayleigh is a college sophomore and marketing intern at Momentum.

When you hear the term millennial, what do you think of? I searched it on google and adjectives like lazy and entitled were the first to pop up.  In my last blog post I wrote about the advantages of diversity in leadership in terms of race and gender. This week, Momentum welcomes Tamara Thorpe, an organizational development consultant and national expert on leveraging multi-generational talent. As a millennial myself, I was anxious to do a little digging into Tamara’s topic ahead of her visit.

In the next five years, the percentage of Millennials in the workforce is predicted to increase from 40% to 60%.  The Boomer and Gen X generations will get a lot more out of millennials if they are able to leverage the strengths of my generation, and we have quite a few!

Here are the top four millennial strengths from my point of view:

  1. Independent
    In the 1970s the median age for marriage was 23. Now it’s 30. Millennials want to marry (70%) and also want to have kids (74%). However, delaying those life changing decisions gives millennials more time to focus on career and life experiences before bearing the additional responsibilities that come with family life. That can only bode well for employers looking to leverage millennial’s independence and flexibility.
  2. Adaptable
    Previous generations were obsessed with owning things, such as a house, car, TVs, and garages full of “stuff.” Millennials tend to value experiences over assets, and those experiences make them highly adaptable to various environments. Millennials want to be ready to seize an opportunity should it arise. It’s why 60% of millennials opt to rent rather than buy their home.  Because experience is valued over consumption, millennials are highly adaptable to changing circumstances.
  3. Aware
    Millennials are the first generation of true “digital natives.” We were born with access to the Internet and a constant evolution of new communication channels. Older generations fear that all of this technology results in poor communication skills, but I would argue that the many social platforms millennials use increase awareness and compassion for the world around them. I am constantly impressed by my generation’s knowledge of social causes and their desire to come together to make a difference. Social business models are emerging rapidly, and millennials are highly aware of businesses that make a positive difference in the world.
  4. Ambitious
    I’ve read plenty of rants calling millennials entitled and lazy. But I will argue that most millennials are an ambitious lot. First of all, there are 75-90 million of us depending on how you count…that’s the largest generation in American history. That’s also a lot of competition. It’s harder for millennials to get into school, land their first job, and get their first promotion. Only the more ambitious ones will make it and we know it. Tamara Thorpe says, “[millennials] aren’t afraid to question authority and ask for what they want, which is to be included and involved.” Close ties to family have created a confident generation. We also know that our confidence has to be paired with hard work or it’s just entitlement. But we don’t want to do busy work to just “pay the dues” or “do your time”–we want to do meaningful work that makes a difference. And when we do, letting us know will fuel our ambition and drive.


Every generation has strengths and weaknesses, which is why we should embrace the diversity in order to leverage everyone’s talents.

We look forward to welcoming Tamara Thorpe this week to learn how to tap into the potential in every generation to become effective and authentic leaders, millennials and all.


Goldman Sachs. (2017) Millennials Infographic. Retrieved from Goldman Sachs:

Thorpe, Tamara. (2017) Let a Millennial Mentor You. Retrieved from Tamara Thorpe’s website: