How we’re developing female leaders through learning from peer organizations

Only 14.2 percent of the top five leadership positions at companies in the S&P 500 are held by women, according to a report from CNNMoney. This low number is an issue that spans industries, from construction to technology to retail, and one that the Skanska Women’s Network is seeking to address.

Our Women’s Network is an employee resource group open to both men and women that focuses on retaining and developing women throughout our organization, especially for leadership roles. It provides a platform for professional development and a forum in which women can share experiences and influence the company. Unlocking these resources and connections creates new possibilities not only for women’s careers, but for Skanska as well. The Women’s Network has chapters throughout the U.S. and is launching its fifth chapter in Florida this week.

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Members of our San Francisco chapter attended a recent panel on leadership.

Our Women’s Network is working to make connections with leaders outside the construction and development industries. These connections are helping our Women’s Network broaden its reach and influence, while providing valuable lessons for our teams. For example, in Seattle, Skanska Women’s Network Northwest, led by Co-Chair and Senior Project Manager Lacey Ahlf, tapped into two of the biggest companies in their market sectors: Starbucks and Tableau Software. Earlier this year, local Women’s Network leaders asked its members what they most wanted to gain from the network, and mentorship topped the list. Ahlf noticed Starbucks’ Women’s Development Network discussing mentorship on their Facebook page, and a member of the Northwest Chapter reached out to them to see if they’d join Skanska’s discussion. Similarly, the Women’s Network connected with the women’s group at Tableau and invited them to join the mentoring discussion, which was open to women and men from Skanska as well as others in the industry, including competitors.

“Our goal is to help women in the industry,” Ahlf said. That means supporting all women, regardless of company.

The mentoring conversation focused on the differences between formal and informal mentorship and the role and importance of cultivating both. One interesting discussion point came from the Tableau team, which has developed a robust mentorship program, in part to stay competitive in the highly transitory tech hiring economy. They’ve found that mentorship is most effective when it’s implemented from the on-boarding phase. Routine mentorship check-ins are vital, especially in the employee’s first 1.5 years in order to develop and retain talent. These kinds of cross-industry insights are helping our Women’s Network refine and grow its programs.

Learning from Nike

In Portland, Ore., Skanska Women’s Network Co-Chair and Director of Project Controls Katie Coulson has also approached companies outside of construction, including Nike. Women at Nike make up 50 percent of the general workforce, but that parity is not yet reflected at the top of the company – a situation typical of many companies. Thus, Nike’s Global Women’s Leadership Council is working hard to change this dynamic and is serving as a mentor to Skanska’s program in the Northwest. Notably, the council has demonstrated the impact that these kinds of programs can have on women’s careers: a higher percentage of women who are members of the council have achieved promotions in the last 5 years versus women who do not participate.

Bringing 70 people together from across industries to discuss female leadership

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The panel at “Breaking the Mold: Women in Leadership” addresses the Women’s Network in San Francisco.

In San Francisco, Julie Hyson, Skanska director of business development, was inspired by her interactions with clients, partners and community members to develop a similar cross-industry event for the Women’s Network, entitled “Breaking the Mold: Women in Leadership.”

“I’ve met many inspiring women in leadership positions,” said Hyson. “And I felt like there should be a forum for us to share real experiences and learn from one another.”

Hyson connected with the team at Autodesk, who shared Hyson’s vision for an event that would cover taboo topics about women in leadership and allow women to speak boldly about their experiences.

“We wanted women to leave with a sense of courage,” said Hyson. “And with the confidence to be brazen leaders regardless of their title.”

Hyson assembled a panel of inspiring women who represented diverse market sectors and a range of experience, from companies like Autodesk and Northland Control Systems, to the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco International Airport. More than 70 women and men from industries including architecture, engineering, technology and sports joined the conversation, which touched on topics such as self-advocacy and balance. One interesting moment came at the beginning of the session, when the audience was asked to raise their hands for these questions:

1. Are you a woman? 95 percent of the audience said yes.

2. Are you a manager? 75 percent of the audience said yes.

3. Do you have concerns about work/life balance? 100 percent of the audience said yes

4. Are you a mother with young children? 50 percent of the audience said yes.

5. Are you in a male dominated field? 100 percent of the audience said yes.

“The idea was to show everyone that we’re speaking the same language, said Hyson. “We have commonalities in an effort to break the ice and feel comfortable connecting on a genuine level.”  The panel was so successful that there are plans for similar events with teams at SFO and elsewhere.

For Ahlf, Hyson and Coulson, the goal of these events is to help women across industries advance their careers and become leaders in their own right.

Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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