Glass Ceiling 2.0: Innovation Programs that Close the Gender Gap

Glass CeilingThe South Bay programs committee hosted an engaging event to discuss innovative programs in the transportation industry that close the gender gap and create opportunities that help women succeed in a predominately male sector. Participants left with actionable items that have successfully worked at organizations, which have promoted women to senior and executive level positions.

The event was held on June 21, 2016, in San Jose and was moderated by Denise Rabius who is highly regarded for her expertise in developing strong women leaders. She co-created “Women Leaders:  Mastering Influence, Authenticity, and Power.”  Denise also facilitates the Women in Management Program at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and is a co-facilitator for the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter’s Women’s Leadership Program. Denise received her MBA from Stanford.

Denise led a powerful discussion on innovative ways that organizations can close the gender gap by advancing women in the workplace. At the conclusion of the program, participants divided into groups, discussed important takeaways, and presented at least one actionable item to the rest of the group. Distinguished panelists were Matt Henry, President/CEO of Fehr & Peers; Shayna van Hoften, Partner, Hanson Bridgett LLP; and Rachel Zack, Innovative Mobility Lead with WSP | Parsons Brinkerhoff.

Matt Henry began the discussion with Fehr & Peers’ 2016 statistics. Women make up 38% of the executive leadership team compared to the A/E industry average of 11% for firms with revenues under $100 million in annual revenue. Forty-five percent of its managers are women whereas the A/E average is 16%; 48% of Fehr & Peers’ staff are women, and women make up 25% and 24% of its Board of Directors and shareholders, respectively. Matt noted that while Fehr & Peers is pleased with this progress, more work remains to move all of their metrics closer to an equal balance.

Organizations that have established values that focus on treating their employees with dignity and incorporating work/life balance into their overall organizational culture, also had very high percentages of women in executive leadership and management positions. In addition, human-centered values, flexible work schedules, robust IT infrastructure, policies that promote transparency and equity in compensation, and mentorship programs for women were found to be keys to success for women in the workplace.

Shayna van Hoften provided an overview of Hanson Bridgett’s relevant statistics and awards. Of the 157 total attorneys at the firm, 43% are women. Women also make up 33% of the firm’s 95 partners. In addition, 30% of the attorneys on the firm’s Management Committee are women, as is 43% of the entire Management Committee. In recognition of Hanson Bridgett’s commitment to attracting and maintaining this significant element of its workforce, borne out through a range of supportive policies complementing lawyers’ own efforts, Hanson Bridgett was named one of the “50 Best Law Firms for Women” by Working Mother magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers. Hanson Bridgett’s numeric success in this area was recognized by Law360, which recently named the firm one of the “100 Best U.S. Law Firms for Women” and one of 25 “Ceiling Smashers,” a moniker used for U.S. based law firms with the highest percentage of female partners.

Shayna then discussed the value of her firm’s consistently forward-thinking, visionary leadership, values, and culture. Shayna emphasized the importance of all employees establishing strong relationships with their managers and mentors. Starting early in her career, Shayna developed her work style taking what she liked best of the various models she saw around her, customized to fit her strengths and meet her needs as both a lawyer and a mother. She had very frank discussions with her mentors and supervisors about her goals, and benefited from their guidance. This resulted in Shayna being able to work on a schedule that fit her family’s needs while still meeting her obligations to the firm and its clients. Over the next ten years, Shayna established herself as a committed and invested member of the firm with specific areas of expertise, such as civil rights law compliance in public transit and government ethics, while still working on a reduced-time schedule. Despite her alternative work schedule—which was not apparent to most of her clients—Shayna was made a Partner at the firm. Shayna illustrated for the group how her firm’s results-oriented focus on attorney development helps ensure the success of both the employee as well as the employer.

Rachel Zack, the new Chair of the Bay Area’s Glass Ceiling Committee, discussed key findings from the most recent Glass Ceiling Task Force Report and related some of the findings from the Report’s literature review on second generation bias to her own experiences in the workplace. In Rachel’s own career she feels the most important thing is to find companies and managers who evaluate performance above all else. Rachel also stressed that while the findings of the longitudinal study show an increase of women in leadership positions, the industry is nowhere near 50/50 and there is a lot of work to be done. She is looking for volunteers to join the Glass Ceiling Committee which she says is an eye-opening and enriching experience.

The following is a list of items identified by the participants as important to advancing women in the workplace. While this event focused on programs and policies that close the gender gap for women, initiatives designed to benefit women also benefit all employees.

Actionable Takeaway Items:

  • Create mentoring programs for women at various stages of their careers
    Women need coaching and guidance throughout the span of their careers.
  • Establish a pipeline for women early in their careers
    As women enter the workplace, provide mechanisms to help them begin planning the direction of their careers.
  • Create Women’s Affinity Groups
    These groups provide opportunities for women to have peer-to-peer interactions to discuss issues that are unique to women and send a strong message about the organization’s commitment to promoting women.
  • Create human-centered organizational values
    Promote work/life balance and treat employees with dignity and respect.
  • Create flexible work environments
    Allow employees to work non-traditional work hours or schedules; focus on results and contributions rather than on hours worked or time physically spent in the office.

The Women’s Transportation Seminar San Francisco Bay Area Chapter’s third longitudinal study:

“Women in the San Francisco Bay Area Transportation Industry: A Longitudinal Study Benchmarking Women in Leadership Roles – Report 3.”