Women are demanding more from their employers. Rising burnout rates and an ongoing caregiving crisis have female leaders switching jobs at a historic pace. The “Great Resignation” has given way to the “Great Breakup”, and this is having a significant impact on companies struggling to retain and promote the few female leaders they have left.
According to a 2021 study by Catalyst, women make up only 28.1% of senior management roles globally. A separate study by McKinsey found only 1 in 4 C-suite leaders was a woman, and only 1 in 20 was a woman of color.
“It’s hard to strive to be something that you don’t see. You don’t see a lot of multicultural women in C-suite positions in corporate America and it’s unsettling to feel like you stand apart in a room” said Cynthia North, Executive Director, RLT Marketing at Novartis.
Recognizing the urgent need to address this disparity, Paradigm for Parity®, a coalition of C-suite leaders, board members, and business academics who are deeply committed to advancing gender equity in the corporate world, developed the Paradigm for Parity Profit and Loss Leadership Accelerator Program, which was funded by CVS Health Foundation and Merck.
As part of this multi-pronged 6 month-development program, they’ve partnered with AceUp to offer their members a leadership coach who supports their long-term career goals and helps them on their journey towards closing the gender gap.
Overcoming Leadership Headwinds
Women leaders are just as ambitious as men, but at many companies, they face headwinds that signal it will be harder to advance. Daily microaggressions, such as having their judgment questioned or being mistaken for someone more junior, are common for women – even more pronounced for women of color.
Paradigm for Parity’s mission is to transform corporate culture to advance all women equitably. Their 5-Point Action Plan is designed to catalyze change and enable companies to effectively increase the representation of women from all races, cultures, and backgrounds in leadership positions. With this goal in mind, they developed the Leadership Accelerator pilot program in 2022. A key focus of the pilot program was harnessing the power of leadership coaching from AceUp to provide equitable access to profit and loss (P&L) training for multicultural women at an early career stage.
“Women of color can feel limited in their choices and options in their professional roles. By working with a coach, women of color can be empowered to broaden their scope of what is available to them professionally,” said Ainka Gonzalez, Associate Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion Center of Excellence, Merck, and program participant.
Finding Confidence Through Coaching
The six-month pilot program for multicultural women utilized a comprehensive approach that included key business and financial acumen training, sponsorship from internal company executives, external mentors with P&L experience, core skill leadership training, and a virtual executive coach.
Paradigm for Parity CEO and Bank of America, Global Diversity & Inclusion Senior VP, Sandra Quince said executive coaching was the pinnacle of the experience. “Participants received one-on-one and group coaching to process how to put into action all that they learned. It was certainly an impactful experience. I found a coach who I trusted, was different from me, and could see my pain points from a different perspective. This ultimately helps me move forward as a stronger leader.”
Across the board, Paradigm for Parity coachees reported learning about themselves, how they make decisions, and how they can take a step back to analyze their attitudes and outputs. Sessions were viewed as safe spaces where the women could openly share their difficulties and find inspiration to approach upcoming challenges with renewed energy and motivation.
“My coach does an excellent job of creating an environment where I feel comfortable sharing my difficulties at work, so this exhale moment is something I am grateful for, “said Gonzalez.
“I felt empowered to be fully transparent and honest about what I needed help with and got feedback that was straightforward and compassionate. My coach helped me see how I can improve my performance in my current role, fine-tune my interpersonal communication skills, and ultimately – advance my career,” Gonzalez added.
Expanding After Widespread Success
AceUp and Paradigm for Parity’s Leadership Accelerator program is highly successful.
Within just six months of completion, more than 11% of participants received promotions, and the pilot cohort showed significant growth in leadership competencies.
Specifically, participants increased their skills in time, organization, and productivity by 12%, managing conflicts and difficult conversations by 9 percent, communicating effectively and influencing stakeholders by 10%, and leading with a growth mindset by 8%. The program’s focus on a growth mindset was also well-received by participants, and their feedback aligns with Paradigm for Parity’s goal of helping them feel confident in their leadership role and empowered to communicate their career goals.
“I have had so many doors open for me since completing my coaching including having the opportunity to be a part of the Merck oncology mentoring program. It has been life-changing and invaluable,” said North.
Now expanding into its second phase, the Profit & Loss Leadership Accelerator program continues to ensure equitable access to leadership development, prioritizing skills for women in senior operational roles responsible for driving revenue within a business or business unit. The partnership underscores its dedication to building a more equitable and inclusive workplace for all. What we couldn’t have predicted, is that it would encourage one participant to pay it forward and become a coach herself!
“It has been life-changing and invaluable. I know that becoming a certified coach is something that I would like to pursue someday so that I can continue to foster this experience for professionals within my company. It has been mutually beneficial, and my company has found a lot of value in my coaching,” said North.