GWEN: Progress and Recommitment

Five years ago, Edelman launched the Global Women’s Empowerment Network with the primary goal being the equal representation of women among our most senior leaders.  At the time, although 68 percent of our total workforce was women, that number dropped to 37 percent in leadership positions. Addressing this gap and creating a more gender diverse leadership was, and is, above else simply good business.  In this blog post, I will report on our progress, recognize our shortcomings and commit to reaching the ultimate goal, which is to be 50/50 in terms of women in leadership.

 Here’s a quick overview of where we currently stand:

On the general manager, global client leader or practice leader levels or above, that 37 per cent November of 2011 has improved to 40 percent today.

On our Executive Committee, women account for 36 percent of the total, up from 25 percent.

Women now make up 70 percent of practice and sector leads, up from 40 percent.

Women are half of our global client leaders, up from 33 percent.

A woman now runs our largest office and our second largest region.

Beyond the progress on numbers, we have made improvements in many other areas. Of benefit, I hope to all employees, male and female, we have introduced more formal mentoring programs across the firm and adapted our HR policies to a family friendlier work environment that include flexible work time. We are supporting the International Women’s Forum (IWF) and their program and created a community of more than 800 active GWEN members.  I want to thank all of them and our GWEN steering committee of female senior leaders for their continued passion.  

We have several great examples of women who started their careers here right out of school and rose to the highest levels of management all while raising families. Lisa Sepulveda, our chief client officer, who started her career at Edelman as an assistant and is now a member of our executive committee, is one of those examples:

“I started my career at Edelman right out of school as an account coordinator. When I look back now on my 30 year career, I reflect on the incredible and challenging opportunities.  Along the way, I learned how to manage the balance of work and my family.  When I travel the globe I give GWEN talks to women around the network, and all are eager to hear how I balanced, grew and advanced. Mentoring is and always has been, a cornerstone for me.  We’re doing a better job of advancing female role models, but there’s still room for improvement. I’m determined to keep at the goals we set, in order to have more success stories and role models for the next generation.”

So all of this is quite positive. Not yet at our goal but moving in the right direction. What’s not going so well?

Representation of women still drops the higher the level. Specifically, women make up 63 percent of Level 4 employees, 46 percent of Level 5 and 40 percent of Level 6. So the big change is between VP/SVP and EVP. To staunch the outflow of talent at the key Level 5, we are implementing improved maternity leave and caregiver policies, family rooms and child care assistance and flexible time. Our biggest drops still occur in Asia and Latin America, though there has also been good progress there in recent years.  

There is some evidence of residual feeling that Edelman is a “boy’s club,” in recent reviews in Glassdoor. I have a very specific agenda in this program. My daughters will succeed me as owners of the firm. They will want to inherit a business that reflects the best meritocratic values of a gender-blind workplace. They will also want to satisfy the demands of clients such as HP that have made diversity a key criterion in agency selection. Edelman has been built by outstanding women, from Pam Talbot to Helen Douglas to Betsy Plank. Great women, in partnership with great men, will continue to take us forward. 

I am personally committed to the 50 percent target. And to ensure that we reach that mark we are implementing several measures, including:  

  1. Working against stereotyping and bias and ensuring that hires are made and promotions are given based on merit only.    A company-wide training program, starting with leadership levels, will be implemented, starting in FY 17
  2. We will continue to recruit, promote and manage succession planning purely on merit, but increase our focus on ensuring each of these steps is taken from a gender-equal point of view.  As an example, we will commit to making sure selection pools for vacant positions contain both men and women. 
  3. Committing to equal pay and conducting a company-wide pay analysis to identify and tackle any potential gaps, finalized in FY 17.

The GWEN program was started by Gail Becker and now is led by Cornelia Kunze, who runs our global mid-sized client program. Cornelia and I agree that it may take us five more years to get to our promised land. We are committed to getting there.

Richard Edelman is president and CEO.