by Sheryl Sculley, City Manager, San Antonio, TX
As manager of an organization with more than 11,000 employees, I work to ensure that we employ talented and qualified staff at all levels of the organization. Part of this strategy includes cultivating and retaining talented employees within the organization. To accomplish that goal, my staff and I have implemented a number of training and development programs during my tenure. One of those programs is the Women’s Leadership and Mentoring Program (WLMP) that was launched this year to develop and encourage up-and-coming women leaders in our organization.
Recent research indicates a disconnect between the number of qualified potential female leaders and the number of actual female leaders. For instance, women are 59 percent of the college-educated, entry-level workforce and earn nearly 60 percent of the undergraduate degrees and master’s degrees awarded; yet, women make up only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. The purpose of the WLMP is to help amend that disconnect by developing talented female employees who are ready to take on leadership; removing barriers to women advancing in their careers; encouraging best practices and the City’s core values; and retaining promising talent.
How it works
The WLMP matches a current female City executive to a female employee in a mentoring relationship. The program runs for one year with one-on-one mentoring meetings and full group educational sessions on alternating months. At the end of the year, mentees will have completed a group project to benefit the organization and the community.
The foundation of the WLMP is built on five key goals:
- Ensure professional growth and development to benefit individuals and the organization
- Provide an avenue for women in the organization to develop and demonstrate their leadership abilities
- Provide networking opportunities to enhance teamwork in the organization
- Promote an environment that recognizes the value of women’s contributions in the organization
- Create a pool of internal candidates and strengthen organizational succession planning
To begin the program, 300 female employees with leadership potential were identified and invited to apply. Of those women, 43 were selected and paired with 28 executives. Currently at the halfway point in this program, a number of high-profile female executives from the community have led workshops on generational differences in the workplace, leadership development, creating effective teams and negotiation strategies. In addition to planned workshops, mentees have met for skill-building exercises on areas such as project management and networking events both internal and external to the City. The mentees are participating in one of two group projects – civic engagement and a City-wide employee recognition program. Both projects will result in a design document that is implementation-ready and will be presented by the mentee groups at the final meeting in November.
Promoting innovation and leadership
The WLMP fosters innovation and leadership by attracting a diverse group, incorporating the City’s core values into the program and through the two mentee service projects. Recent studies have shown the best ideas and solutions to problems are developed by groups with different backgrounds in a workplace culture that embraces diversity. The program’s rigorous selection process ensures participants are likely future leaders and the group includes multiple perspectives and diverse backgrounds. Incorporating the City’s core values– teamwork, innovation, integrity and professionalism– into the program goals means future leaders will be well-equipped to act as agents of positive change within their departments and the organization as a whole. Finally, the group service projects simultaneously foster both innovation and leadership by providing leadership roles to mentees and produce an innovative deliverable for implementation at the City.
We anticipated some challenges in the first year of the program, which were addressed through the program’s governing documents and structure. The largest challenge is related to scheduling. The program will not be successful unless mentors and mentees make time to grow the relationship; therefore, each mentor and mentee are required to meet one-on-one every other month, when the group sessions are not scheduled. Another challenge was determining how to select mentees and how to pair them. To address this, the application process required applicants to demonstrate their qualifications and commitment and explain what they hoped to get out of the program. Once an applicant was selected, the second half of the application was used to create a strong match. Going forward, we hope to maintain momentum, continue to improve the program and create the framework that will sustain the program for the long-term.
The future of the program
The strong initial interest from applicants and the positive feedback so far indicate that the program has the potential to create a significant impact on both the advancement of women and development of strong future leaders for the City. We recognize that empowering women leaders will not be accomplished in just one year. Based on feedback from participant surveys, we plan to modify the program as necessary and continue it again next year.
Lessons for cities interested in building their own mentorship program
The key to the program’s success is commitment from both mentors and mentees. The requirements and selection process have helped ensure mentors and mentees are committed to the program. Additionally, starting a new program requires a strong champion– someone from the highest levels of the organization– who gets participants engaged, sets expectations and sustains momentum. Next, it is important to have a well-defined structure and shared goals to measure progress and define success. Finally, a willingness to adapt is important to creating a sustainable program. As this program completes its first year, we will look for ways to improve the program in the following years and create a strong development tool for years to come.
The role of the Alliance of Innovation with the group in the future
The WLMP has a lot to learn and benefit from the Alliance of Innovation. Both organizations were created to facilitate communication and partnership for the exchange of knowledge, tools and networks which help us– individually and collectively– innovate, develop and grow. Mentees look to the Alliance as a resource both for their WLMP projects and in their daily work. We encourage WLMP participants to become active members of the Alliance and to transfer the knowledge they gain back to their co-workers. The Alliance is one more way for mentees to grow professionally and become our future leaders.
Reprinted as a courtesy of the Alliance for Innovation. The Alliance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization serving local government organizations in the US and Canada. Learn more at www.transformgov.org.