Model Practice Women's Leadership Program

Bank of America

Industry: Finance

Principle II: Work-Life Balance and Career Development

Principle IV: Management and Governance

Bank of America continues to invest in being a great place to work by giving employees the support they need to make an impact in their communities. As a part of this investment, the organization takes a holistic approach to recruiting, developing, and empowering women employees so they can make meaningful contributions within the company and around the globe. The company provides women employees with the tools they need to succeed and to advance their careers, including campus recruiting initiatives, progressive workplace policies such as 16 weeks of flexible maternity, paternity, and adoption leave, and the Global Women’s Conference, which convenes top female leaders from around the globe to learn about leadership advancement and advocacy.

The catalyst for much of this success has been the Women’s Leadership Program, which first began as a company-wide program in 2007, in partnership with the Columbia Business School and University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School to help female talent accelerate into leadership roles. This national program leverages the research and faculty of the business schools to deliver a two-day on-campus experience to engage, develop, and retain high performing and high potential talent.

"I’ve personally benefitted and witnessed the impact that our Women’s Leadership Program has had on identifying and developing top talent, enabling women to stand out and succeed in our organization." 
Janet Lamkin
Bank of America California
San Francisco

Since 2010, more than 700 women have participated in the Women’s Leadership Program and, now in its seventh year as a company-wide program, internal studies show that women who attend this program are seven times more likely than their peers to be promoted. The 11th cycle of the program starts this fall.

How does this model practice work?

The model of the company-wide Women’s Leadership Program has been scaled and tailored for women employees in California. Called the California Women Leaders Network, this highly coveted program hosts about 80 women statewide who meet three to four times per year (meetings switch annually between San Francisco and Los Angeles). For both the national and the California program, women are identified as part of a program nominations process following talent planning and performance calibration sessions within each line of business. Human Resources and the Leadership Development team facilitate this process in partnership with a selection of business leaders. Women must meet specific selection criteria, such as being high potential, top performing, or having the aspiration and potential to grow their careers. Participants receive a communication informing them of their selection for both programs. They then receive a congratulatory email from the CEO.

Program seats are allocated based on total population of each line of business: approximately a 50/50 split between revenue generating versus headquarter and staff support employees for both the national and California programs. The company also provides diversity data to its Human Resources and Learning Development teams to ensure there is the same or an overrepresentation of diverse talent in the total nominations provided.

Participants of the California program meet at least twice a year, face-to-face with internal and external speakers. The program incorporates the use of external materials, such as Harvard Business Review cases and TED Talks to focus discussions. In addition, the program leverages tools such as Emergenetics and Talent Insight Reports to help the company understand its strengths and identify the areas of opportunity.

Each national program historically has been a one-time, face-to-face learning event with internal and external speakers and thought leaders. The national program incorporates the use of industry-leading assessments (e.g., 360 and Thomas Kilman) to enhance development opportunities. Some of the participants create local market cohort groups that meet more frequently, in-person, to stay connected.

Following the success of the statewide program, there are now several women's leadership programs in local cities, including one offered by San Francisco’s women employee network called Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Development (LEAD) for Women. With more than 500 members, the San Francisco LEAD chapter provides resources and hosts events throughout the year to educate and empower women’s careers and personal achievements.

"The investment that Bank of America has made in me as a female professional has inspired me to do more to create a ripple effect of women lending a hand to each other. Through LEAD, I believe I have made an impact as a member of the Bay Area community as well as the global community of women leaders." 
Janet Guthrie
Treasury Management

A review of some of San Francisco LEAD’s offerings can serve as a model for other companies and organizations with a significant female workforce.

• An Executive Breakfast series invites women executives from other Bay Area companies to address the chapter (most recently, Lynn Perkins, founder of Urban Sitters, spoke to the group).
• A professional social media branding workshop with LinkedIn executives, including an onsite photographer offering professional headshots.
• An indisputable element of staff retention is employee fulfillment and happiness, so the San Francisco LEAD chapter offers a variety of volunteer opportunities and charitable events for its female colleagues to connect and contribute where their passions may lie. These volunteer opportunities range from Dress for Success to the Susan G. Komen breast cancer events.

As a result of its success, the program will be enhanced in 2017 and repositioned as the Women’s Executive Development Program. The program will offer a robust 10-month experience including assessments, in-person and ongoing virtual development sessions, executive sponsorship, and local market engagement opportunities. To further maximize impact, managers of each participant will also be engaged to help build targeted career development plans for each woman.

How can I adopt this model practice in my workplace?

The California Women’s Leaders network can be duplicated by other businesses and tailored to their particular needs. A number of sessions focus on building skills that would translate outside a financial setting to any type of business, and the ability to empower and inspire women is relevant to every business. Critical components of planning include the following:

1. Obtain buy-in and visible support from management at the outset.

2. Line up a small working group (made up of a combination of those in leadership positions and the target audience, all of whom are passionate about the success of women and understand the unique challenges faced by women in the particular organization and industry).

3. Set specific goals for the meeting and use those goals to plan the entire agenda. One key goal is to ensure that the tone for the agenda is one of inspiration, positivity, and empowerment, and not an airing of gripes or grievances.

4. For organizations that have multiple offices or locations, identify a central location for the meeting. In order to be effective, the program must be held in-person, rather than participating via video conference or other remote formats.

5. Ensure that leaders and role models attend and actively participate throughout the meetings.

6. Social and team-building activities should be included in the schedule, and leaders and role models should attend and actively participate in those activities as well.

7. Incorporate interactive discussions into skill-building sessions. Focus discussions on specific, practical, and actionable strategies for success.

8. Collect detailed feedback after the meeting to determine whether the goals were met, and to identify concrete ways to improve the program in the future.
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