Board veteran Betsy Atkins has some excellent advice for Uber. The third edition of her book Behind Boardroom Doors was published this month.
Build internal career networks. At Volvo Car AB, where I serve on the board, we’ve launched a regular program where I have the opportunity to meet with senior and mid-level women executives on personal career development. We work with these execs to build on their strengths, clarify their career aspirations, and offer advice on advancement. This is a new program, but it is already proving a success in energizing and motivating the paths of these current and future female leaders.
Make mentoring personal. On the board of Schneider Electric, I make it a point to directly mentor a number of women on the company’s senior executive team. Women in management find it tremendously helpful to have someone in the boardroom take a personal interest in their career strategy and development. At Uber, new board member Ariana Huffington will be in an ideal position to put her mentoring and career savvy to work in helping rising women execs rebuild the company. The key is a regular ongoing program of mentoring and support.
Go beyond mentoring. The tech industry, in particular has too few role models for rising female talents. The mentoring aid above is helpful… but why not go one better? Companies can ask their Male and Female Execs (and Board Members) to either mentor or sponsor their Female Execs. There is a big difference between mentoring which is periodic advising and coaching and sponsoring where you take ownership for introducing and more actively helping sponsor an individual for their next step up in their career. Women who are already senior managers or board members can kick mentoring up a notch by “sponsoring” women hi-pots. Take personal ownership of career coaching for your top talents. Give them advice, introduce them to the people they need to sharpen their skills, and introduce their names at strategic moments.Recognize the women making a difference.
When I served as chair of the board’s compensation committee at tech firm Polycom, we were active in the annual recognition event for sales staff. I noted that women were leaders in sales, making up less than 10 percent of the sales force, but were 34 percent of our “President’s Circle” top sales performers. Making an added effort to celebrate (and promote) this talent is crucial in sending the message that sales is not just a “guy thing” in the company.
While Uber’s woes make the news, they can also serve as a spark for making the support and advancement of women in your company a boardroom mission.