Retention Strategies

Dec. 21, 2004

Companies take different approaches to retain their top female talent. Some manufacturers address specific issues women have complained about: personal safety, child care, and elder care. Others implement comprehensive programs for women that cover mentoring and recruitment into line positions. No matter what the program, it works best when executed by top managers. Xerox Corp. Chairman and CEO Paul Allaire raises the prominence of his companys programs for women by attending events and by tying diversity to the bottom line. "Workers with [a] sense of empowerment are more efficient, productive, and satisfied on the job. Companies that treat employees with respect -- as key members of the team -- are repaid in the dividends of employee motivation, productivity, and commitment to quality," Allaire pointed out recently at a Xerox-sponsored summit on relinking work and life. Xerox started improving its environment for women in the 1980s. Today its sales-force gender ratio is 50-50. At the officer level, however, women occupy fewer than 20% of positions, but the company is trying to change that, explains chief information officer Patricia Wallington. "We have a large national womens organization, which senior executives support by sitting on panels and going to the annual dinner," she says. Even when the company implements significant layoffs such as the one underway, Wallington believes women are not unevenly affected. "We have processes in place to ensure a layoff doesnt affect diversity. If it looked like a disproportionate number of one group would be affected, wed have to redo the [layoff plan]," she explains. Tenneco Inc. set up a womens advisory council to find solutions for problems that confront women, reports Advancing Women in Business, a new guide from the Catalyst organization. The Work/Family Support program came out of the council, as did a change in incentive programs so that now a chunk of each divisions executive bonuses are based on meeting goals related to hiring and advancing women. But in certain areas large manufacturers fail. Many women complain about the lack of mentoring. Autodesk Inc. CEO Carol Bartz suggests that corporations should focus more attention on their top women managers. "Are you paying them as much as youre paying men; are you giving them the same opportunities?" asks Bartz, who recalls addressing similar questions to a male CEO, who calmly replied he didnt know. Exodus Communications Inc. President Ellen Hancock reminds manufacturers to think about what their annual reports say about their interest in women leaders. She believes companies without women on their boards indicate a lack of commitment. "There are enough women who would be interested and capable," she observes.

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