Best Practices

Strategies and Benchmarks to Reach Parity

June 2020

This research report is organized in three sections:

  • Key findings of the 2019 Working Mother Gender Gap survey and other relevant research related to the advancement of women and employees of color: understanding the challenges and barriers that continue to hold women and URM back from advancing into positions of leadership is KEY to making progress and achieving parity!
  • Examples of what companies in different industries are doing to advance women and URM in the leadership pipeline.
  • Strategies and tips for building a pipeline of high potential women and URM.

This research article is organized in three sections:
• Key findings of the 2019 Working Mother Gender Gap survey and other relevant research related to the advancement of women and employees of color: understanding the challenges and barriers that continue to hold women and URM back from advancing into positions of leadership is KEY to making progress and achieving parity.
• Examples of what companies in different industries are doing to advance women and URM in the leadership pipeline.
• Strategies and tips for building a pipeline of high potential women and URM.

Systemic Barriers Holding Women Back

Progress at the top is constrained by a “broken rung”
• The biggest obstacle women face on the path to senior leadership is at the first step up to manager. For every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired.
• This broken rung results in more women getting stuck at the entry level, and fewer women becoming managers.
• Not surprisingly, men end up holding 62 percent of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38 percent.

This early inequality has a long-term impact on the talent pipeline.
• Since men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, there are significantly fewer women to hire or promote to senior managers.
• The number of women decreases at every subsequent level. So even as hiring and promotion rates improve for women at senior levels, women as a whole can never catch up.
• There are simply too few women to advance.

What’s Holding Women Back?

In a KPMG Women’s Leadership Study:
• 92 percent of respondents said they do not feel confident asking for sponsors, 79 percent lack confidence seeking mentors, 76 percent asking for access to senior leadership, 73 percent pursuing a job opportunity beyond their experience, 69 percent asking for a career path plan, and 56 percent requesting a new role or position.
• While two-thirds of respondents said they have learned the most important lessons about leadership from other women, and 82 percent of working women in the study believe access to, and networking with, female leaders will help them advance in their career, a discrepancy was found between the importance of engaging other women and the realities of who is doing it.
• While seven in 10 working women feel a personal obligation to help more women advance in the workplace, only one-third of working women have learned to leverage and support other female employees.
• The KPMG Leadership Study identified confidence building and leadership training, along with the ability to network with women leaders, as key elements to expanding women’s leadership. When asked what training and development skills were needed to move more women into leadership roles, 57 percent of study respondents cited leadership training, 56 percent confidence building, 48 percent decision-making, 47 percent networking, and 46 percent critical thinking.

Systemic Barriers Holding URM Back

A 2019 study by The Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) found
• Black professionals are more likely to encounter prejudice and microaggressions than any other racial or ethnic group in the workplace
• They are also less likely than their white counterparts to have access to senior leaders and support from their managers
• A lack of face time with senior leaders hinders building personal relationships with those within a company who oversee promotions
• About 20 percent of Black respondents said they don’t feel someone of their race could ever gain the top position at their company
• The lack of promotions are causing Black employees to change jobs more frequently: more than one-third of Black respondents said they plan to leave their company within two years, as opposed to 27 percent of Whites
• In 2012, there were six black Fortune 500 CEOs; today there are three

The CTI study recommends the best way to enhance career opportunities for African-Americans, is to introduce bias training for managers, create a diversity hiring strategy specifically for Black employees, implement clear consistent standards for promotions, and hire decision-makers who are committed to diversity.

Dell’s Programs to Advance Women

Dell’s Diversity Leadership Accelerator Program (DLAP) is focused on closing the gender gap in Dell’s leadership pipeline.

The program is a nine-month coaching and sponsorship program to help high-performing women advance their careers at Dell. It is designed to address the “leaky pipeline” challenge: Representation of women in the workforce drops at each career stage.

By developing senior professionals and midlevel managers, DLAP will help develop a more diverse, balanced leadership pipeline. It will also build a culture of sponsorship. DLAP pairs women with external coaches and internal sponsors to ensure they not only have the skills to advance, but also the executive support.

DLAP launched in the U.S. in 2019, kicking off with a three-day workshop focused on the challenges and opportunities of being a diverse leader, and developing self-advocacy skills. During the workshop, the 29 women professionals heard from Dell Technologies leaders about their personal and professional commitments to a diverse and inclusive workforce. They also crafted a sponsorship agreement with their sponsor, laying the foundation for the following months of intensive coaching and sponsorship.

Dell developed DLAP with gender diversity experts at Simmons University and Tenshey, Inc. The curriculum covers the intersectionality of gender, ethnicity and identity. Dell plans to expand the curriculum to other underrepresented groups in
the future. Dell will expand DLAP to sites in Bangalore, India, and Cork, Ireland, by 2020, and Panama City, Panama, by 2021.

Dell Practices to Advance Women

Leading Women @ Dell is a program designed to meet the specific needs of women with C-Suite aspirations. Developed in collaboration with the Simmons School of Management, participants receive executive coaching that helps them to better actualize their career paths. The program is offered to high performing, high potential, senior level and executive women, twice a year.

The Managing Success Now program is focused on high performing, mid-career women. It equips them with the skills to understand difference, negotiate and propel their careers forward. Managers put forward high performing mid-career women they think would thrive through the program.

Through Dell’s Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN), the company is connecting female entrepreneurs across the globe with networks, sources of capital, knowledge and technology—giving them the power to do more. The Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network summit brings together 200 of the most inspiring female entrepreneurs, international media and Dell executives for two days of collaboration, thought leadership and networking. The event has grown into a thriving international network with hundreds of women business owners who connect throughout the year to share their knowledge and support their peers in accelerating business growth.

IBM Programs to Advance Women

Women Helping Women

In a series of “book club-like” sessions, women expand their leadership capabilities by engaging on topics including “Designing Your Professional
Future,” “Work-Life Integration,” “Creating Your Personal Brand,” and “Intentional Networking.” Anyone can organize groups, whether it be single departments, mentoring teams, cross-functional teams, or simply people on the same floor or in the same building.

Technical Women’s Pipeline Program

This program aligns mid-career women with an executive coach and sponsor, offers face-to-face workshops and learning labs, and creates a development roadmap to track progress and readiness for the next milestone in their career path.

Women Elite Circle

This program in China is designed to accelerate the personal and professional growth of high-potential women leaders by pursuing the effective integration of career and life. The program blends group and personal coaching activities to assist in deeper awareness and connection to self, helping the women develop a healthy, balanced and rewarding lifestyle with IBM.


This program is designed to accelerate the professional growth of high-potential mid-career IBM women in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Latin America. During the program, participants develop leadership skills through education, experience and exposure opportunities tailored to individuals’ career paths.


In India, this program is a blend of academic, experiential and reflective learning, helping participants develop personal, functional and strategic leadership skills, in a joint partnership with Indian Institute of Management academic institution, Catalyst and IBM India. A nine-month program for women preparing to become executives, it incorporates face-to-face lab at the university, virtual experiences, networking sessions with business leaders across walks of life and industries, job shadowing, mentoring, and one-on-one consulting sessions with faculty.

IBM Practices to Advance Women

IBM has also established the MEA Elevate Women Leadership Program badge program, designed to recognize completion of 12 months of education, exposure, experience based learning to develop leadership capabilities.

Skills Developed

• Transformational Leadership | Coaching And Feedback | Agile And Design Thinking | Presenting With Eminence | Business Relationships And Influencing Skills | Networking With Leaders | Mindfulness | Mentoring Partnership | Job Shadowing | Building Relationships | Building Influence

What It Takes to Earn This Badge

• Successfully complete these required courses (face to face): Taste of Agile, Creating Your Leadership Journey, Building Relationships & Influence
• Have a mentor
• Get to know other Business Units
• Successfully complete any combination of these courses and experiences: Women‘s Leadership Series, Coaching with Impact, Leading Without Biases, Presenting With Eminence, Whole Brain Thinking using the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument workshop
• Participate in round tables led by a leader in the business
• Job shadowing with an executive, receive coaching
• Giveback (contributing as Career Coaches, mentoring early professionals and joining your local Diversity network groups)
• With the completion of mandatory training, mentoring, and other Business Unit drop-ins + optional experiences and courses, the participant must accumulate at least 150 points to graduate from the program.

First Horizon Leverages Data and Accountability

Data analytics and accountability are key to First Horizon’s strategy to advance women and other underrepresented employee groups.

Throughout the year, First Horizon leaders receive diversity staffing maps and review talent pipeline reports to examine team diversity by various categories and levels. These color-coded maps provide fact-based data and insights to help leaders prioritize staffing decisions for their teams. Leaders discuss and review the maps with their direct reports to ensure understanding, determine if any
gaps are present, and identify any obstacles. One of the gaps identified pointed to the underrepresentation of women at the leadership level, particularly in P&L roles.

To address the gap, First Horizon now requires diverse slates and makes sure high potential women have opportunities to develop skills, demonstrate leadership, and build relationships with executives. A report is also sent to the CEO stating who is being considered, interviewed and hired. The department leader’s name is included on that report, adding a layer of accountability and bringing more attention, awareness and motivation to act on their plans.

These efforts have paid off. Diversity representation in leadership roles began outpacing industry averages in most categories: in 2018, women represented 32 percent of the Executive Management Committee, 37 percent in the top three direct report levels in the organization, and 75 percent of manager roles.

Deutsche Bank Develops Global Strategy

Deutsche Bank has committed to sponsorship through its Accomplished Top Leaders Advancement Strategy (ATLAS) program. ATLAS prepares high-performing women from all business units around the world for executive leadership positions, pairing them with a member of the bank’s group executive committee who is from a different business line. These executive committee members sponsor ATLAS women by championing them to lead the firm and advocating for them to fill the most senior positions.

The bank’s CEO brings selected high-potential women into the program by sending each candidate a personal letter inviting them to attend an opening event and dinner with him and the group executive committee. The program consists of an in-depth assessment of the women’s goals and areas of focus, regular meetings, and group sessions. The bank also assigns ATLAS participants as informal mentors to new women management directors.

Across the entire ATLAS cohort group, 45 percent of women participating are now in new or expanded roles. Since its initial launch in, more than half of ATLAS participants have moved into more senior roles.

Tips and Strategies for Advancing Women and URM

Assess Your Internal Pipeline

Leveraging existing HR information and data analytics can generate important insights about the workforce and help identify high potential women and employees of color as leadership candidates.
• Developing the internal pipeline is not solely about the talent process. Workplace programs and efforts such as work-life integration and pay equity are also important factors to consider in strategies to develop the pipeline of talent in the industry.
• Consider that workplace flexibility and fair pay are two frequently cited reasons employees join and stay with a company.
• Opportunities for individual coaching, affinity -based leadership development, executive sponsorship, and mentoring are also essential components of the leadership development continuum—particularly for women and diverse employees who may lack access to training and advancement options.
• Stretch assignments are also effective interventions to develop new skills and perspectives, and including diverse high-potential employees in networking events with company and industry leaders is another strategy to build competencies and forge new relationships.

Develop Individualized Career Tracks

• Actively engage potential women of color. Identify and invest in high-performing women with the capacity and inclination to lead, and give them the skills, training, and confidence to do so.
• Treat leadership as a tangible skill. Clarify the most valued and respected attributes of leaders in the organization—strategic thinking, for example—and provide training opportunities and confidence building for women who wish to hone their skills.
• Establish relationships and networks. Actively connect junior-level employees with female senior leader mentors/ sponsors and create networking opportunities regardless of level.
• Enhance the visibility of role models. Highlight female senior leaders.
• Chart the path to leadership. Articulate clear steps for career development, starting with employees in their twenties or earliest stages of their careers.
• Combine “soft” and “hard” rewards. Reinforce and validate women’s performance and confidence with clear and consistent personal feedback, together with the more conventional rewards of raises and promotions.

Checklist for Proceeding

Commit from the top. C-Suite executives need to demonstrate their support by sponsoring and mentoring high potential women and employees from other under-represented groups.

Set goals. To achieve diversity, even at the highest levels, there must be reasonable but aggressive goals on changing the demographics, e.g. at least X percent of succession slates are diverse and X percent are women of color.

Dedicate roles and responsibilities. Hold someone responsible for achieving succession planning goals.

Establish clear criteria for advancement. Define and communicate the criteria, process and expectations for upward mobility. Review them with candidates.

Redefine leadership criteria. Continually review and challenge assumptions of what a leader should look like and what skills and competencies are needed.

Create diverse talent development plans. Monitor and measure progress, outcomes, and the time it takes to execute plans to ensure parity.

Establish Accountability for Results

D&I goals are only realized when key decision-makers are accountable. Change and commitment must start from the top, cascading throughout the organization.

By taking accountability for goals, leaders signal the importance of diversity and inclusion as a business priority and help focus people’s attention.

Although D&I has become a top priority in many companies, few successfully link D&I outcomes to executive pay and compensation.

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