Good afternoon…and thank you George for the introduction and, more importantly, your support.Also, I want to thank HBA for this award and the honor and privilege to be associated with folks like the Rising Stars and the past Honorable Mentor and Women of the year winners, and Carolyn Buck-Luce, this year’s WOTY.
In 1993, after three years with Cardinal Health, I came to a realization that while I was good at being a financial controller, I wasn’t passionate about it. What I truly felt passionate about was the opportunity to someday be a general manager.
To do that, I felt the best way was to change careers and become a sales guy – not a typical career move for most bean counters. So, I went to my boss and asked if I could take a lateral move to an open sales role. He told me no…and, in fact he told me he really didn’t see sales as a fit. Undeterred, I mentioned it to another senior leader that ran another business in Cardinal Health and she said she thought it was a good idea and hired me as her director of sales. She later let me run operations, then moved me into the role of general manager for one of the businesses she was responsible for. Lisa Dolin took the biggest chance on me that any boss ever has, as I had no track record in anything but finance.
While I learned many things from Lisa, the one thing I learned from her – that I did not appreciate at the time but helped shape me – is just how hard it can be for a female executive. I saw how she not only had to balance travel and work with three kids and a husband, but also how, as a really tough female executive, she wasn’t always accepted well by all men or women. So… thanks Lisa for taking a chance on me.
So now, let’s roll forward to 2010…. knowing that Employee Resource Groups (or ERGs) are critical to diversity and inclusion and knowing that I didn’t know everything I could about women’s issues in the workplace, I decided to take on the role of running our Women’s ERG. I knew this would put me in an uncomfortable position – being a man driving our women’s initiatives – but I knew this discomfort would be a driver for me to learn… and learn I have. While I could talk for hours – and I know you would all love that – let me share just a few of the key things I have learned over the past three years about how to accelerate women’s initiatives.
First, get men involved. The fact is that at most companies, men still have the majority of senior executive roles. If men don’t get women’s issues, I mean really understand them, nothing will change or change will occur very slowly. The vast majority of men conceptually understand the importance of having women in executive positions and are not consciously biased against women. They just don’t realize how certain decisions create hurdles.
For example, during my first quarterly steering committee meeting, the man in charge of operations for one of our larger businesses came to the realization that just by the location he chose for his pharmacies, which mainly operate at night, it was no wonder he couldn’t attract female pharmacy managers. Since that “ah ha” moment, he now thinks about things like lighting and security in a much different way than he did with only his “guy lens.”
I have seen numerous other “ah ha” moments for men. Just the realization of these moments has and will increase our progress. I want to thank all of the women and men on the ERG steering committee as their involvement has been critical.
The second piece of advice that will help you make progress is to make sure everyone understands the importance of creating a diverse slate of candidates for open roles and the things you expect to make this happen.
For example, we made it a requirement that for every open role at the manager level and above, at least one qualified female or ethnic minority candidate is interviewed and if this does not happen, the hiring manager has to have someone on our company Operating Committee – our top 20 executives – sign off – with these exceptions reviewed monthly by the entire operating committee.
Related to this, one of my “ah ha” moments is how women approach open roles vs. how most men would. Let’s say the hiring manager has determined that their open job has five key qualifications. A woman reviewing the job description who had four of the five is likely to think…”I am missing one so I will work hard to develop this skill and be ready to apply the next time the role is open.” A man with just one of the five will apply immediately and say “I will figure the four out as I go.”…This does not make either right or wrong… just different.
Managers need to recognize this and not only look at those who apply but use this knowledge to reach out to the women who should apply and ask them to do so. This will be critical if you want to make progress and truly hire the best candidates.
The third piece of advice I have is to find both internal and external folks who will keep you really honest on what you as an individual and as a company are really accomplishing. For example, I have six senior women leaders (my women’s executive committee) that I meet with at least monthly to discuss how we are doing as a company, how my messages are being received, and what else we could be doing. They give a ton of their time and are willing to say what needs to be said. Also, I hired a personal coach with 25 years of experience on women’s issues. Her name is Rayona Sharpnack and she has the guts – and my support – to speak her mind. I have 1-on-1 calls with her monthly and she also attends the monthly women’s executive committee meetings and the quarterly steering committees. Finally, I am blessed to have a person I meet with daily who keeps me honest and gives me perspective, my wife, Linda.
There are many hurdles on the track to improving. Like anything, success is more likely when you have trusted folks to honestly tell you how you are or aren’t progressing. I know I clearly would not be where I am without the commitment of Linda, Rayona, and my women’s executive committee…I thank all of you for your support.
Finally, I believe you need formal and informal mentoring and sponsorship. We have spent a lot of time and money on mentoring programs at Cardinal Health and they have been very valuable to both the mentees and mentors. Men acting as mentors is just another way to further educate and involve men. To make even greater progress, I believe companies need to look at sponsorship as a way to make sure the best women move ahead. While the definitions vary on what sponsorship means compared to mentoring, to me, the key is the sponsor owns getting the mentee to the next level as opposed to just advising her on how to get there herself. This is a much deeper relationship and should not be taken lightly. Women need sponsorship and both men and women need to step up and sponsor them.
So, to wrap up….
Learn by making yourself uncomfortable
Get men involved
Focus on the slating process
Find folks who will tell you the truth, and
Support mentoring and sponsoring
If you simply focus on these strategies you will give your company a competitive advantage and make it a better place for women and men to work and grow their careers.