They Open More Doors for Women
These 4 Companies Are Noted for Inclusion

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 4, 2007

When PepsiCo announced Indra K. Nooyi would become chief executive in October, it made headline news.

It was a let's-face-it moment: The only reason it was so noted is because she would be just one of 11 Fortune 500 female chief executives.

Women hold just 16.4 percent of corporate officer positions, up 0.7 percentage points from 2002, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advocacy group that studies women at work.

"We've seen growth for the last 10 years, but we're also seeing a slowing down of the growth," said Ilene H. Lang, Catalyst president.

Why does diversity at the top matter? Sylvia Chrominska, executive vice president of human resources with Scotiabank, sums it up best:

"It makes good business sense. Clearly, many major purchasing decisions are made by women. I think in the broadest sense of the word, diversity of thought, diversity in terms of ethnicity and gender is basically good for business."

And so, though I generally avoid writing about awards because many can be meaningless, I took a look at the four companies recently honored by Catalyst.


In 2002, PepsiCo decided to study how women of color were advancing in the company. Turnover among women of color was higher than among other groups.

The company intensively interviewed women of color who had been in senior positions but left. After the research, PepsiCo thought the main problem was that the women didn't think they had the same relationships with managers as their co-workers did. "They weren't as satisfied as other groups," said Amy George, vice president of global diversity and inclusion.

Since then, PepsiCo has started a program in which women of color and their managers can develop a deeper understanding. A third-party facilitator meets with the woman and her manager separately to talk about their relationship, where they see things going, what their career goals are. Then the three create a written plan. They go through the process again in three to six months, this time with the boss's boss as well, and determine how they did with their plan.

The results thus far? In 2001, 72 of the company's 1,806 executives (senior managers and above) were women of color, and that number grew to 144 out of 2,165 at the end of 2006. In addition, turnover had dropped by double digits, and the retention gap is almost indiscernible.

Goldman Sachs

After a serious look at diversity, the company realized it had a problem. Even though it had a good number of female employees, the number of female partners was minuscule. So Goldman started an initiative in 2001 to make sure women had senior managers' attention.

Name by name, the company went through the list of female managing directors and high-level vice presidents to make sure they received the attention they might not otherwise have received from senior management, said Edie Hunt, managing director and co-chief operating officer of human resources. Therefore, the company moved away from the traditional "apprenticeship mode," in which people draft others who are close to them, think like them and probably look like them.

Now, once a year, top managers review women who are managing directors or who they see as having potential. The most senior leaders of the company sit in, discuss the women, and often assign them projects that might allow them more visibility with higher-ups.

The company also introduced networking and recruiting programs to help women make connections, such as maternity mentors -- women who can advise pregnant women how to negotiate for leave, deal with clients and more. There are also networking events that include serious discussions along with "softer" topics, like how to play golf.

The number of female partners has doubled since Goldman started the program.


Like the others, PWC realized it had higher turnover among women than among men, despite the fact it hired them at the same rate. A light bulb went off. "We thought to be fair, you had to treat everyone the same," said Jennifer Allyn, director of gender retention and advancement. "But we suddenly realized to retain all these people, we had to treat different people differently."

So the firm worked to come up with customized approaches for women.

Because workers at a consulting company are often at client sites and traveling, they can feel disconnected, Allyn said. Female staff members are now assigned to partners to discuss their goals and work. It helps the partners get to know the staff and find out which issues they might be having, such as juggling multiple assignments or figuring out career goals. And it encourages partners to consider what it feels like to be a woman at the firm.

The company also started to redesign the way people worked. Instead of each partner being an individual entrepreneur, a group of partners share a portfolio of clients and group of staff members. This encouraged more teamwork and lightened the workload for many.

Turnover among women fell from 24 percent in 2001 to 16 percent in 2006, and the number of female partners increased 30 percent.


When it launched an initiative in 2003 to increase its number of senior-level women, Scotiabank "badly lagged behind our competitors," said Chrominska, executive vice president of human resources.

The company created scorecards that held leaders accountable not only for business results but also for how well women were represented in their departments. Women said they didn't think they had the same chances to network as men, and so Scotiabank created a speakers' series in which the company's most-senior women are interviewed for an audience of female workers. "One of the things we heard from women is they didn't have access to role models and didn't know what success looked like as a woman," Chrominska said. "This gives insight into the fact that senior women have some of the same issues that everyone does."

There is also a career panel where women talk about careers within different divisions.

From 2003 to 2006, the company increased its women in positions of vice president and above from 18.9 to 31 percent.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company