Breaking Barriers: Empowering the Next Generation of Women Leaders

Tom Tate

2021 began with more top women leaders globally than ever before – and Colleen Stratton, Global Leader of Workforce Development at SEI, is fully committed to continuing this trend at the PA-based wealth management company. 
 

On our August 26 episode of Talent Experience Live, Stratton shared how she forged paths for herself and other women in the workplace. “I’ve become very passionate about the topic,” Stratton said, referencing a career history of strong mentors who inspired her to help others succeed. “I put it back on myself to be a mentor and sponsor to other women in the workforce. There just aren’t enough of us.”
 

Watch the full episode below, or get key takeaways below on how organizations can better develop female employees for leadership roles! 
 


A renewed commitment to turning women into leaders


Several years ago, Stratton watched a BBC news broadcast covering newly released data on salary gaps among the network’s male and female anchors.
 

In the middle of the show, the female anchor walked off the stage — a moment that served as fresh inspiration for Stratton to ensure equality for women at her own organization. 
 

Leveraging data to strengthen their strategies


To start, Stratton knew she needed data to illuminate problematic areas — specifically as it related to diverse hiring and career advancement efforts for women. “The first thing we did was, we said we need to know what we're looking at as an organization, and we put together a dashboard that we could use to really see where we were.” 
 


The dashboard is structured as a five-level hierarchy of positions, and includes data on women at each level:
 

  • What percentage of women are in those positions?
     
  • What percentage of women were promoted internally into those positions?
     
  • What percentage of external hires in the various levels are women?
     
  • What is the turnover rate of women at each of those levels?
     

Thankfully, they were able to get the answers they were looking for. SEI’s focus on modernizing its HR tech (including implementing the Phenom platform) has given Stratton’s team access to data to guide strategic decision-making. “We’re at the point now where we’re able to report on the data, but we’re starting to move into what’s really exciting for us – which is the ability to predict.”
 


What if your organization isn’t quite as far along? “I’d say, even if you haven’t started, you can start now with tracking. You can start looking at it. I see incredible things when I look at the data.”
 

For example, turnover data for SEI revealed that employees who make it past the five-year mark tend to stay with the company for at least another five. That discovery led SEI to increase retention efforts during this pivotal year — some of which are tailored to women and other diverse employee groups. 
 

Stratton also shared how their team saw a 10% drop-off among female managers moving up to director-level positions, and an increase in turnover.
 

To dig in deeper, they asked questions and found that many women felt the time obligation of a director-level position wouldn’t be manageable. But with a more flexible remote work schedule, Stratton is hopeful that more women will apply for director-level positions, which will increase tenure and also feed the executive candidate pool. 
 

“Getting [women] to the director level is important to us. It’s a particular area that the data told us we should focus on,” she said.


RELATED: Job Empowerment & Growth: Ways to Support Women at Work



SEI’s initiatives to retain and develop female employees


In addition to establishing a strong women’s network, SEI has implemented various initiatives designed not only to retain women, but also to develop them as leaders by fine-tuning skills such as mentorship, delegation, and negotiation.
 


The “Get, Grow, Keep” Campaign
 

Led by SEI’s five most senior women, "Get, Grow, Keep" focuses on hiring, developing, and retaining female leaders. “That campaign was about looking at the data, making sure we understood what it was telling us, and putting in place some efforts we could make as an organization – and making sure we were making those efforts and reporting back on them,” Stratton said. 
 


The “5 to 15” Program
 

With this program, SEI prepares participants to move into a senior position within 5 to 15 years. The program trains employees on skills they need for career advancement, and assigns executive-sponsored projects that provide exposure across the organization. “We’re 40% female in that program,” Stratton said.


Women’s Development Series
 

Stratton is particularly excited to launch this pilot program, designed to train female employees on skills that help them take charge of their career paths, like negotiation and feeling empowered to speak up. 


Mentorship and sponsorship programs 


According to Stratton, there’s a difference between mentorship and sponsorship programs: career mentors give advice and counsel employees on the next steps they should take to further their careers, while sponsors represent employees and guide them toward new internal opportunities. 
 

Mentorship is a good avenue toward sponsorship, she added.
 


 


The key to success for any employee being mentored or sponsored? Bring a value to the table, Stratton advises. 
 

Coach employees interested in mentorships or sponsorships that they need to bring what she calls a “gift” to the mentor or sponsor. “That gift should be something you’re an expert in.”
 

For example, recent college grads can offer insight into social media, or what the new generation of workers is looking for in an employer.


How to build gender equality programs from the ground up


What if your organization doesn’t already have a women’s network or other similar initiatives in place? 
 

First, Stratton said, work on finding your voice and building confidence – which may take you outside the workplace. For example, you can volunteer or look for opportunities in your community. “Start there to find your voice — let that help you build your confidence, and if you’re so inclined, be the person to start something.”
 


She also encourages women to interview externally on a regular basis. “It’s first of all important to know your worth … you also get intelligence on what other people are doing that’s out there, and you get the confidence to speak about yourself and your accomplishments.”


Recommended resources for empowering women


Basing the gender equality discussion on research can make the conversation easier and less personal, Stratton noted. 
 

Here are some of the books that have most inspired her:
 


For more on how to improve gender equality at your organization,
check out our blog "How to Advocate for Women in the Workplace"


Catch Talent Experience Live on LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook every Thursday at noon ET to get the latest in recruiting, talent acquisition, talent management, and HR tech.