Spotlight on Diversity with Josephine Ford
Regional co-leader for Middle East, North Africa & Turkey
GE Capital, Managing Director, Risk Middle East, Turkey & Africa
Taking on a challenge such as diversity is a large and daunting task. Going beyond the rhetoric of empowerment, how has your team helped to create real solutions on the ground for women across the region?
Well, as a bit of background, the Women’s Network fosters the professional growth and development of women working at GE by providing mentoring, networking, skills development, and coaching on career paths. Our primary mandate is developing and retaining talented woman, and increasing our diversity scores. So it’s all about moving the needle on diversity. We really focus on partnering with our HR team and the business leadership to make sure that the GE’s Women’s Network is impactful.
One of the key areas where we aim to help the women in our organization is by helping them build their networks – with other women across the region and by access to leaders across the region and the company. I think as women we often underestimate the value of networking – we don’t spend enough time building those informal connections that can often be very helpful when it comes to getting that next job, or getting the right exposure. Whenever a senior leader comes to town we ask him or her to host a roundtable/Q&A session to talk to the women in the region about their careers. These are fantastic informal networking opportunities, and we always get a good turnout.
We also hold lots of sessions focused on skills development. Popular seminars include finance for non-finance professionals, or tips on presentations skills to help our network members be more effective in a business environment. We are committed to making sure that the GE’s Women’s Network develops women in a way that helps them build their careers and in a way that adds value to the Company.
Interesting. And how does the team bring this to life?
We run the network like a business – we have an operating plan, an operating rhythm, a leadership team. We hold the leaders accountable, and we make sure that we have the right value proposition for our customers – the women in the network and the businesses they work for. At the end of the day, however, it is a volunteer organization and we rely on people who are committed to do this on top of their day job. Our success is down to the engagement and commitment of the women we have who run the hubs across the region. We couldn’t do it without them. I’d like to point out that we work with HR and the business leaders to use the Women’s Network as a development tool. It’s a great place to get hands on leadership experience that is valuable to career development and growth. We make sure that the business leaders know who the women are who are helping us make the organization a success. Being involved in the Women’s Network is challenging but at the same time massively rewarding. I’ve met so many amazing and inspirational women from a wide range of backgrounds. And I’m proud to say, the Women’s Network is now launching two new hubs in Saudi Arabia and Qatar… proof that success leads to success!
How are the female leaders in the region educating male leaders on the importance of gender diversity in the region?
When you look at the stats, we still have a long way to go. While our work force has grown, the overall percentage of women has not. Furthermore, we have very few women in leadership roles or in technical/commercial roles. So our first step is creating a dialogue with business leaders in the region on the many reasons why gender diversity is critical for success. We share research. We share best-practices. We speak at leadership meetings and we ask our leadership team what they are doing to drive diversity. Diversity in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. There is a lot of tangible, quantitative evidence to back this up. At the end of the day, we are a global company with a diverse and global customer base. More and more of the decision makers we deal with are women. Don’t you think it makes sense to have a woman selling to them?
We’ve learned about an interesting technique you incorporate called ‘Reverse Mentoring’ – what is this?
Well, the big issue here is it’s hard to attract a diverse workforce if you don’t already have one. Women don’t want to go and work for a company that looks like it doesn’t care about diversity. Reverse mentoring plays an important role in getting our leaders in the region to embrace diversity.
So we asked the question – how can we educate male leaders on the importance of diversity and the challenges our women face? The answer came from the women in the organization themselves. The Reverse Mentoring concept is simple – a male manager is assigned a junior female mentor to learn about the issues and challenges facing her and her female colleagues. It’s a first step to begin a dialogue around diversity.
How can we attract women and help to facilitate their integration into more non-traditional roles?
In this region, the number of women in technical and commercial positions is low, particularly in senior leadership roles. So, bringing more women into the talent pipeline is critical.
First, let’s look at recruiting. Let’s look at the value proposition to women. Is it working or should we rethink it? How can we help women get their voices heard? How can we engage and retain our female staff? How can women help to support each other professionally? How can we recognize and value different behavioral characteristics and approaches to leadership, rather than taking one-size-fits-all approach? How can we challenge stereotypes and subconscious biases? These are the big questions we need to have a candid discussion about.
What is your advice to the next generation of women leaders?
Diversity doesn’t work if you’re invisible. Keeping your head down and working hard isn’t going to get you noticed, and if you don’t get noticed, it’s hard to get that promotion. So my advice is this – speak up. You got the job because you know what you are doing and you’re smart – but if you don’t speak up, no one is going to know that! Believe in yourself. Have a view – and share it! There have been so many times I’m sitting in a meeting thinking “I’m not going to say that…it’s stupid”, then the guy next to me says what I’ve been thinking, and the boss says “great point”!