Developing and Retaining Women Leaders—The Importance of Mentoring


By Donna Evans, President and CEO, Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce

According to a study conducted by professors at Oregon State University’s College of Business, female executives are more than twice as likely to leave their jobs – voluntarily and involuntarily – as men.

Besides the need for workplace flexibility, one of the top reasons that women leave their jobs is because most employers lack a strategy for developing women leaders, according to Mercer, a global HR consulting firm.  Most companies, 70%, do not have programs designed to develop women into leadership roles.

So the question becomes how can a company buck the odds and recruit, retain and advance more women? In 2004, Grant Thornton, an international accounting and consulting firm, developed “Women at Grant Thornton” to do just that.

The program focuses on ensuring a culture that enhances retention and recruitment of women, increasing the number of women in partnership and leadership roles, recognizing women’s success and enhancing professional development.

In addition, they place a big emphasis on internal mentoring for staff to develop professionally and as community leaders. I recently had the opportunity to meet three women at different points in their professional careers in the Denver office who have formed a “mentoring family”.

Senior associate Alicia Rouse, Manager Kristie Arps and Firm Partner Kelly Rodriguez have formed their “mentoring family” to learn, support and solve problems together. All of them have been promoted through the ranks at Grant Thornton and have experienced first hand their commitment to women. Kelly has two children, she was promoted to partner and is able to maintain a life balance. At a firm without family friendly policies, it would have been much harder. Kristie has had an opportunity to work overseas at another Grant Thornton office and she credits Kelly’s mentoring and support as the top reason she received this opportunity. Both Kristie and Alicia said that because they see the firm’s commitment to women and mentoring and that they see women being promoted, they believe they will have more opportunities for advancement.

Grant Thornton has been recognized as a top company by Working Mother Magazine for the last 5 years in addition to other accolades. More importantly, since Women in Grant Thornton began in 2004, women partners grew from 31 to 88, 184%, and 28% of them hold positions as managing partners for service lines, industries or offices.

In today’s social and economic environment it will be critical for companies to develop or partner with organizations with programs that support the development of women. Programs that emphasize mentoring, flexibility, opportunities, and recognition need to be key areas of focus. Research has shown that companies that embrace these values will be the leaders in attracting and retaining a talented female workforce.

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