Still, as new graduates, these women have the same skills and competencies as their male classmates, and, as a 2014 Bain&Company Report showed, the same level of ambition. How to explain, and even better to change, a situation where women account for only 9% of the Executive Committee? How to tap into the unique leadership skills of each of these women, and leverage them into every function and hierarchical level of our company?
Based on my personal experience where I have been - more often than normal - the only woman in many executive teams, I knew something different needed to be done to help other women get there. Diversity is a big and complex problem. I knew I would not change this over night and this was not my ambition. But, I wanted to try something which would leave a mark and I reflected on what I would have needed as I was climbing the career ladder.
My – at least partial - answer to this challenge has been the TOP10 Program, a holistic, very focused, 12 month leadership development program for 30 women per year - 10 in each of our three regions, targeting the following three objectives:
- Enable the women to master the language of power and to navigate the organization. Leadership is not only about one’s own skills and ability to inspire others; it is also about delivering business outcomes, articulating how projects contribute to the company strategy and financials results.
- Enable the women to connect to the executive level. Be visible. Beyond mentoring, sponsorship is instrumental for a leader to build her own leadership style and her executive network, to be “taken charge” of by someone. Each TOP10 woman is sponsored by an executive from her organization. I am convinced that the value of a professional network is not the number of people you are connected to, but the number of people you can call in to help resolve a problem, and most importantly, the number of people who talk to others about you and your accomplishments. The more, the better. This is how the game is played.
- Enable the women to reflect about their careers, skills, struggles and ambitions. Leaders need to think strategically about their careers, and the TOP10 are assigned an executive coach acting as a sounding board and a brainstorming partner through that reflection. Most of them had never worked with a coach….!
I am proud of the success of this program so far. I am proud of the women talent we have. It is just not visible enough. This program has enhanced their visibility and created much greater leadership ownership and much better outcome than any other initiative! The first year of the program, 50% of the women were promoted to higher level positions, and some to “C” level positions: Chief Financial Officer, Chief Account Manager and Chief Country Officer. The program has now gone global, started first as I was in HR Leader in Asia Pacific and this positive trend is continuing.
The TOP10 program was launched by Nicole Gionet in our Asia Pacific region in 2012 and 2013. The program was extended to our EMEA and Americas region from 2014 onwards.
Each year from September to June, 30 TOP10 Women, representing each region and each functional organization, participate in this leadership and career development program, each of them supported by a business sponsor and a coach.
The TOP10 program is making a real impact as 40% of all the TOP10 Alumni have already embraced higher responsibilities or grown to higher hierarchical levels. As stated by Business Sponsor Philippe Keryer, Executive Vice President, Strategy and Innovation: “TOP10 Women is a practical step to achieving our goal of increasing the proportion of women in leadership.”
On September 2015, we held the graduation ceremonies for the TOP10 Women class of 2014 – 2015, with extremely positive feedback from the TOP10 Women including several who said: “this is absolutely the best development program I have ever been on”.
The graduation ceremonies were yet another opportunity for our company leaders to share leadership tips with the TOP10 Women:
- “Take your seat at the table”, “Aim high, don’t let others dictate your choices”, “Be brave! You already have all that you need to succeed within you!” (from Patty Jazayeri, Tina Yap, Ioana Feier, respectively Americas, APAC and EMEA Gender Diversity leads)
- “The chances, the changes are all yours to make” (Pascale Thorre, Global Diversity Director, quoting Tolkien), While acknowledging that “discovering women and leveraging their talents is beneficial for our business.” (Business Sponsor Laurence Delpy, Sales Leader, APAC).
During the ceremony, many of the TOP10 women expressed their gratitude for this opportunity to grow personally and professionally. Some talked about “learning to dare”, “increasing their communication impact”, and “improving their leadership skills”. The TOP10 women are proud of their awakened curiosity and ability to think “outside the box.” They have already started implementing and sharing the knowledge that they had gained during the program.
The TOP10 Program is an enablement initiative, meeting the expectations of the company executives and the TOP10 Alumni, while being instrumental to progress towards Alcatel-Lucent objective of leveraging more talented women into our leadership ranks.
TOP10 Program effectiveness is the results of three blended Key Success Factors: top down executive attention, bottom up women’s development, and cross organization focus. Each of these factors is impactful per se, and the combination of the three is our successful solution to helping empower talented women to thrive.