MUMBAI: Companies are leveraging onnetworks for high-potential womenexecutives as well as in-house programmes to nurture women within the organisation for leadership positions with the aim of retaining top women employees.
World's largest spirits company Diageo India, whose managing director is a woman - as are half the members of its India executive team - is this year looking at expanding the scope of its global women's networking group, the Spirited Women's Network.
The group, which aims to empower and strengthen women at work, in their families, and in their communities, will now encourage a variety of management styles and behaviours as well as develop and support solutions to women's issues.
"Our aim is to make Diageo a place where our employees would want the women in their families to work," says Sarah Walton, human resources director, Diageo India.
Cadbury India recently introduced the 'My Mentor' programme to encourage high-potential women to aspire to senior leadership roles. The self-paced, 12-week programme provides an opportunity to network with both peers as well as senior business leaders, including women leaders within the business across the Asia Pacific region.
Several other companies like Accenture, Boston Consulting Group and Coca-Cola are recognising formal women's networks as a critical retention tool for women leaders, particularly at the mid-career level.
"If you want women to go up the corporate ladder you have to give them coaches or mentors. A lot of companies are formally launching their networks to ensure sounding boards for women within the organisation structure and their career sustainment," says Moushami Bose, diversity consultant and founder of Divinity Coaching, who has mentored several women in corporates.
Women dropping out mid-career not only puts an early end to a promising career but is also a drain on organisations that invest in women and suddenly see an exodus. So it is crucial from the organisational point of view to develop a support system for women to hold on to key talent.
"Women have a lot of social pressures and a feeling of guilt that they are pursuing a career at the cost of family, which men never feel. Usually they do not have anyone to talk to who can be unbiased and with whom they can discuss their struggles," says Bose. And this is where networks and mentoring for women become critical to retain talent.
Accenture has a women's networking group called 'Vaahini' that supports networking amongst women employees within as well as outside the company.
"Our women's networks are a critical piece of the retention puzzle. They are not restricted to creating new activities and events for women," says Rekha Menon, managing director for geographic services for India & ASEAN at Accenture. These networks help give a voice to women, create a " safe space" and a sense of community for business skill-building and social support.
The company also has Women's Mentoring Programs that pair women executives with senior executive mentors, include virtual workshops and provide networking tips.
Accenture also runs the Women Leadership Development Program that enables women managers to develop professional skills, strengthen networks and explore what it takes to excel as a leader.
At BCG, the women's initiative helps recruit the best available female talent for the firm and retain existing employees. The company organises formal and informal networking initiatives for women with events that address everything from negotiation to flexible career choices.
"Through these initiatives, women in the organisation find a formal and informal network of mentors and role models within the firm, attend quarterly women-only events in their local offices, and participate in regional women's initiative conferences," says Neetu Chitkara, project leader, BCG.
Consulting is travel-intensive, which is not feasible for all. So BCG gives women staff the options to work at 60% or 80% levels (instead of full-time). However, women need to know and discuss issues like whether working for a lesser number of hours will impact their career; or they may simply not know how to execute that. In situations like these, women's networks help with mentors who give them a holistic view of the situation.
"At Coca-Cola India, there is a diversity council comprising both men and women to bring a more holistic perspective to women's issues," says Sameer Wadhawan, vice president - HR.
Coca-Cola India has been focusing on diversity since 2008. Its target is to get more women in the workplace, develop them, help advance their careers in the organisation and retain them.
The company has an initiative called LINC (lead, inspire and connect), which is a platform to support an enabling culture. LINC is driven by the diversity council and supported by HR.
Its objectives include inviting senior women role models to share their experiences on issues like managing career growth, barriers to growth, and so on.
There are learning sessions on financial planning, psychologists are brought in and a community connection is established to help women network better. Coca-Cola is now trying to use social media to create a more virtual network, from a primarily physical one.