Putting the ‘I’ in D&I


When men step up as full participants in the efforts surrounding women’s inclusion, breakthroughs can happen – for the business and for individuals.

In a spacious conference room at Ernst & Young this past May, employees gathered to discuss lessons from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and a recent article by Katherine “Katty” Kay and Claire Shipman based on their book, The Confidence Code. Hosted by EY’s Professional Women’s Network, a handful of unusual suspects sat scattered among the female staff, managers and partners: male managers and senior managers, handpicked by the event’s organizers to participate in the women-focused discussion.

At one table, female employees at varying levels discussed “The Confidence Gap,” an article published in The Atlantic, and how their own lack of confidence affected their work lives. The man at the table pointed out that all the women gathered were, by proof of their positions at EY, particularly ambitious and high-achieving. “Does this stuff even affect you?” he asked, wondering if this particular discussion was necessary. Without hesitation, the women all nodded unanimously: “Yes.”

Savvy companies across Chicago are embracing inclusion, making strides to involve men of all levels in their women’s inclusion efforts. These programs help attract, retain and develop female talent, ensuring that once women are hired into a firm, they find a culture that allows them to flourish in the same capacity as their male counterparts.

Ernst & Young Central Region Managing Partner Rick Fezell is a strong proponent of these efforts. Despite significant progress at the firm, “we know that women still have some unique challenges,” he says. “It can’t just be women leading women, because you’ll have limited progress. It’s about creating awareness and engagement with men about their role in helping women succeed.” Key components for EY include engaging men as sponsors for high-potential women and inviting men to women’s programming.

Men at NiSource, Inc. are deeply invested in Building the NextGen: Women in Leadership, the women’s initiative that NiSource Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Carrie Hightman and Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Violet Sistovaris launched in 2011. Men attend and participate in an annual summit that gathers employees from across the company; serve as mentors to a carefully selected group of women in an annual mentoring program; and participate in an internal employee resource group. About the latter, Ms. Sistovaris notes, “Men are not just showing up to the meeting. They’re actively participating in choosing topics and speakers. My sense is the guys…are in it to get as much out of the programming, work and networking as any of their women counterparts.”

The success of these programs at least partially lies in a company’s culture: all of the companies we interviewed emphasized diversity and inclusion as essential to their overall business strategy. “The idea is to raise issues of leadership development in the context of the company’s business objectives,” explains Ms. Hightman. “The reality is there are far more men in positions of authority, and it’s less likely we could achieve our objectives if we didn’t have them in the room hearing what we’re hearing. It’s really important to the overall success of the program.”

Mr. Fezell puts a finer point on it: “Over 50 percent of people we hire every year [are women]. It’s a real brain drain when you look 10, 15, 20 years later, and only 10 or 15 percent of partners are women. It’s good business to retain all our high performing people.”

Mark Welch, senior vice president and chief talent officer at Northern Trust Corporation, notes that diversity, inclusion and respect are a few of the bank’s key organizational behaviors against which all employees, including executives, are evaluated. “In all things that you do and every way you act, you must have the lens of diversity and inclusion, in how you lead, engage your team and hire.” Northern Trust utilizes a score card to establish diversity and inclusion goals for the organization and measure performance against them.

At NiSource, 50 percent of women who’ve participated in the mentorship program have been promoted, and an additional 20 percent have taken a job rotation for development purposes. While Ms. Sistovaris is quick to note that the program was not the sole factor, it was a contributing one. “These women come to us with high potential,” she says. “The program has provided them broader exposure and built confidence.” It’s no surprise that 100 percent of the mentees found “significant value” in the program. Ms. Hightman adds that enterprise-wide, the number of female managers and above has increased by 55 percent since 2012.

When Tameka Morton graduated from Chicago State University and joined EY in 2000, she didn’t have an eye on the partner track. “It was a goal that evolved over time after really getting to know the firm, seeing how the firm values flexibility and diversity,” she explains. This summer, Ms. Morton was officially promoted to partner and credits a number of mentors and sponsors, both men and women, for helping her reach that goal. One was her sponsoring partner, Ron Genty. “He’s the assurance partner and market leader within our group…he had a voice at the table and he spoke the loudest,” Ms. Morton recalls. “He was deliberate about how he represented me. Every opportunity he had to speak about me, he did.”

Just as any good mentor-mentee relationship should bring value to both parties, the efforts to include men in women’s initiatives end up having not just a positive impact on women’s careers, but also help evolve the perspectives of the male participants.

Robert Campbell is senior vice president of human resources at NiSource, and has served as a mentor in the Building the NextGen mentorship program for the past two years. Mr. Campbell speaks passionately about the success of the program in helping develop NiSource’s leadership pipeline. Of working with a female mentee, he reflects, “It required me to listen more than I normally would, because their experience is so different than mine.” In turn, he adds, “It perhaps gave them a perspective that they may not otherwise have, as a male navigating and trying to lead effectively in a multicultural environment.”

That transparency and willingness to understand new perspectives is key for “any work in the D&I space,” says Connie Lindsey, executive vice president and head of corporate social responsibility and global diversity & inclusion at Northern Trust. “It’s about understanding the perspective of someone who comes from a different background…It’s not trying to make you more like me. It’s for me to understand your perspective of what your needs are to have the best business outcomes.”

There’s another benefit to that openness: applying traditionally “women’s issue” flexibility solutions to an entire company culture. “I think, sometimes, we still get the response…that you have to treat everyone equally,” Mr. Fezell says. To those critics, he responds: “No, you need to treat everyone fairly. Equal does not recognize the differences in people’s lives; fairness does.” He continues, “I would say that for the first 10 years, people thought of [flexible work arrangements] as being a woman staying home to raise a child. We have so many more examples now of flexible work arrangements that involve both men and women, involve a lot of things that don’t involve giving birth: training for Olympics, caring for ailing partners.”

While all of the companies TCW interviewed noted that there are still challenges left to conquer – including increasing the number of female partners and board members, and a higher representation of women of color overall – they’re confident that these inclusion efforts are setting them on the right track to hiring, retaining and developing diverse talent.

Editor’s Note: This article was inspired by The Executives’ Club of Chicago Women’s Leadership Breakfast discussion, “Women’s Inclusion Begins with Men,” featuring Ernst & Young Central Region Managing Partner Rick Fezell, Northern Trust Chairman/CEO Frederick “Rick” Waddell and Abbott Laboratories Chairman/CEO Miles White, moderated by NiSource, Inc. Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Carrie Hightman.


About Cassandra A. Gaddo

Cassandra A. Gaddo is managing director of Step Up Women's Network in Chicago. A passionate advocate for gender equality and the advancement of women and girls, she is also a board member of Rape Victim Advocates, and a Young Professionals Ambassador for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She writes and speaks about local, national and international women's issues, including in her blog, "Twice As Well."