On April 27, 2012, Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business hosted their inaugural forum, “Moving from Conversation to Action.” With close to 500 community organizations, businesses and students in attendance, the forum showcased corporate leaders who spoke openly and honestly about the challenges they face and the best practices they employ for advancing women to positions of leadership within their organizations. Betsy Myers, founding director of the center and renowned speaker on women’s leadership, called the forum an official launch for the center that will, “act as a valuable resource for best practices on how to promote and retain women” in the workforce.
Challenges for Women in Business
Panelists and presenters at the forum spoke from personal experience about the unique challenges women face in their career advancement, despite being major stakeholders and contributors to our national economy. Although women account for 46% of the workforce, 89% of all U.S. bank accounts and 57% of college graduates worldwide, there is a shocking disparity in the percentage of women in boardrooms and executive suites. Gloria Larson, President of Bentley University, noted that women hold only 16% of all board seats and 3.4% of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies
To move from conversation around women’s advancement to action, Bentley’s Center for Women and Business and large corporations around the globe are implementing organizational transformations that will spur permanent and effective change.
PwC: an Example of Success
A growing number of companies realize that it is an economic imperative to include women in boardroom and executivepositions if they are going to create sustainable success. Many CEOs realize that they must retain and advance women in positions of leadership in order to remain competitive in the marketplace. Bob Moritz, senior partner and chairman of PwC, is one of those leaders and during his keynote address he shared PwC’s best practices for maintaining a diverse organization.
PwC has implemented strong flexible work programs to retain both women and men, including Full Circle and Mentor Moms. The Full Circle program allows women and men to stay connected to the firm for up to five years should life events necessitate a leave from PwC. The program allows participants to retain their credentials and encourages them to attend training events while they are gone. The Mentor Moms program pairs new moms with mentors to ease their transition back to the office. Programs like these not only emphasize to women that it is all right to take a leave, but guarantees support when they return.
The Importance of Sponsorship
Many of the speakers, including Bob Moritz, discussed the importance of sponsorship programs to retain and advance women in the company. In his talk, Moritz emphasized the key difference between mentors and sponsors – although mentors supply connections, advice, and expanded networks; sponsors knock down barriers, create opportunity and defend talent. Whether they had men or women as sponsors, many of the speakers at the forum attributed part of their success to a leader in the organization that advocated for them along the way.
Real World Solutions
During the panel discussion, corporate leaders candidly shared their personal and professional experiences with workplace diversity and discussed the challenges and solutions their companies use to ensure women are included in positions of leadership. One of the key ‘take aways’ from all of the panelists was that a foundational shift is necessary to truly make a difference. Companies must encourage young women to participate in male dominated fields and support them as they enter the workforce. Businesses must provide women with strong flexible work programs and sponsorship opportunities. Leadership needs to engage men in their diversity initiatives and make them accountable for sponsoring rising female talent in their organization.
The executives participating in the forum came from a wide range of organizations that have already demonstrated a significant commitment to retaining and advancing women, as well as world-class leadership, including:
William Bacic, New England managing partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP
Micheline Germanos, senior director, Microsoft Corporation
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor at Harvard Business School and strategy and leadership expert
Tom Peters, renowned business leadership author and speaker
Paul Sagan, president and CEO, Akamai Technologies, Inc.
Laura Sen, president and CEO, BJ's Wholesale Club, Inc.
Enter Bentley’s Center for Women and Business
Betsy Myers, the founding director of the center, emphasized that “we want the center to be the place where corporate America can come and share best practices about how to support, retain and promote women. We are here to support our students and join in the training and leadership of our students. But we also want to have a stake in helping companies provide an environment that will make our students not only want to work there, but stay there.”
Kicking off the forum and addressing the challenges still facing women in business, Gloria Larson added, “The center was conceived as a force for change…and a belief in solving the problem with determination and concrete action. So we’re conducting research, and gathering it from key sources like McKinsey and Catalyst, that will enlighten and empower our students and corporate leaders. We are working directly with leaders like Bob Moritz to understand the trends and tipping points of the private sector….the center is about working with company executives. We’re about women and men finding the best pathways to shared leadership in 2012 and well beyond. In true Bentley fashion, we are partnering with the real world to solve real world problems.”
What’s Next for the Center for Women and Business
In the coming year, the Center for Women and Business is focused on becoming a clearinghouse of best practices for businesses and employees to use and share in order to advance women in the workforce. On June 8, 2012, The center will host “Gearing Up Conference for Women: Take the Lead,” a program for women in the first decade of their career. The center also plans to partner with the DOME Foundation (Diversity and Outreach in Mathematics and Engineering) to encourage girls in kindergarten through twelfth grade to participate in science, math, technology and engineering. The center will fund faculty research that focuses on ways to retain and promote women in a variety of companies.
Additionally, with the Cosgrove Group’s help, the Center for Women and Business will launch a website that will serve as a platform for diversity leaders and human resource executives to discuss and share solutions for maintaining diversity in the workplace. This community will also provide qualitative research that will be shared with the White House and corporations around the globe to encourage businesses to implement solutions that work for advancing women into the boardroom and executive suites.
The Center is grateful to its founding donors, Jack and Pam Cumming, Steven and Christine Manfredi, Fran Gonzalez, and the Founding Corporate Partner PwC; and, the students, faculty, Center staff and members of the community for making the inaugural forum such a success. Together we can move from conversation to action, and change the status quo in companies around the globe!
 Catalyst (2011). Statistical Overview of Women in the Workplace. Retrieved from http://www.catalyst.org/publication/219/statistical-overview-of-women-in-the-workplace
 U.S. Census Bureau; WOW! Facts Diversity Almanac, Volume 11 (2010).
 Catalyst (2011). U.S. Labor Force, Population and Education. Retrieved from http://www.catalyst.org/publication/202/us-labor-force-population-and-education
 Catalyst. (2012). U.S. Women in Business. Retrieved from http://www.catalyst.org/publication/132/us-women-in-business