Five Best Practices for Implementing a Successful Women’s Leadership Initiative in Your Health Care Company

Lessons from Pfizer, Insigniam and KPMG - the 2018 HBA ACE Award Honorees

Content by: Healthcare Businesswomen's Association

As study after study continues to prove the business case for gender parity and broader diversity, companies across every sector are fast accepting that diversity drives innovation and business success. And as these companies seek out proven ways to promote diversity and inclusion, they are increasingly recognizing the power of internal corporate initiatives that support targeted groups of employees, often called employee resource groups.

These resource groups can help companies create an inclusive culture that attracts, engages, and retains top talent. They offer underrepresented groups an environment in which to build confidence, skills, collaboration, and connections. And, when linked to strategic business initiatives, they can help to promote the cross-pollination of ideas that leads to more innovative solutions.

Perhaps nowhere is this more critical today than in health care, an industry that faces huge challenges, from rising costs and complex regulations to technological advances and evolving customer needs and expectations. In addition, resource groups also often known as internal women’s networks (IWNs) that focus on women offer an added benefit. Given that women make 85 percent of all customer decisions in health care, organizations that leverage their women’s groups effectively can garner key customer insights and perspectives to drive product development, marketing and sales initiatives, and customer engagement efforts.

(left to right) Rhonda Johnson, 2017 HBA board chair, EVP, Market Performance Group; Dr. Mary Christian, head of the Strategic Collaborations Group, US Oncology, Bristol-Myers Squibb; Laurie Cooke, RPh, HBA President & CEO; Anna Maria Anthony, chairwomen, Women’s Leadership Forum, athenahealth; Brandon H. Hull, co-founder and managing partner, Cardinal Partners and board of directors, athenahealth; and Shannon Resetich, 2017 HBA board vice-chair, chief commercial officer, ActivCore

Despite their many benefits, however, employee resource groups often fail to move the needle on gender parity in companies. After all, while 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have employee resource groups, women made up just 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs in 2018. The failure is typically due not to lack of motivation, but rather ineffective implementation.

This is why each year since 2007, the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) has recognized successful corporations’ internal women’s leadership initiatives (WLIs). Not only does the award bring much-needed recognition to companies that are getting it right, but the winning initiatives, and even the application process itself, also offer a roadmap to success for other companies looking to start a WLI.

ACE awardees are chosen following a rigorous and independent review by a panel of industry leaders against the following criteria:

● Measurable results

● Business performance

● Stewardship

● Execution

● Sustainability

“This year’s ACE award winners — Pfizer, Insigniam, and KPMG — are being recognized for the different dimensions of excellence outlined in our criteria,” says Liz Coyle, executive vice president, HBA. “Their programs and methods offer key best practices other healthcare organizations can follow to successfully implement and leverage their women’s leadership initiatives.”

Benchmark success with measurable results

Like all solid business initiatives, WLIs must benchmark their success against both quantitative and qualitative metrics. ACE award criteria calls for metrics around the numbers of employees reached by the WLI, as well as the impact of the WLI on the target population.

Broaden the value of your WLI to enhance business performance

Successful WLIs serve as a resource not just for women, but also for their broader organization. What began at many companies as groups focused on women’s networking, skill building, and advancement have become broader in scope, with programs and initiatives that impact colleagues throughout their organizations and realize real business results.

With more than 70 colleague resource groups and 5,459 registered members across the globe, Pfizer’s Global Women’s Council is a model for companies looking to take their WLIs to the next level. “Pfizer has demonstrated an extraordinary drive to unlock the full potential of their female talent pool with a portfolio of game-changing programs,” says Laurie Cooke, president and chief executive officer, HBA.

Pfizer offers programs that encourage and support women to overcome documented barriers to advancement as well as sponsorship programs that provide high-potential women employees with intensive development, mentorship, and access to senior executives.

These opportunities are tied directly to broad business goals, with the stated purpose of establishing a global and local business case that resonates with men and women worldwide. Established focus areas include increasing business and financial acumen as key components of all programming. And overall business goals include engaging female talent and intellectual capital to solve business problems and expand market potential.

Insigniam has instituted objective standards for promotions, bonus programs and performance reviews that insure a meritocracy is in place for career advancement. Moreover the commitment is to allow each employee to be in control of their professional and financial destiny. As a result the firm has a cumulative NPS of 73, has seen steady CAGR growth year over year and now has a partner group that is 50 percent female.

Engage senior-level support from the outset

Leaders of successful WLIs agree that engaging top executives, and securing their support, early on is critical to driving WLI acceptance and implementation. When senior leaders serve as vocal champions, other senior leaders are quicker to lend their support and colleagues at all levels more fully understand the importance of the WLI to the organization.

Senior-level support runs deep within all 2018 ACE awardee companies. At KPMG, for example, three top global executives led their award-winning WLI research initiative, supported by an advisory board of four senior leaders from their healthcare life-science customer base and academia.

To ensure continuity of senior leader involvement in D&I activities, Pfizer assigns leadership and executive sponsorship duties on each of its seven Pfizer Colleague Councils.

Each of the company’s 70 women’s colleague resource groups have executive sponsors as well. Executive leaders further participate in related events and serve as mentors to program participants as well as in leadership roles in the HBA.

Take the pulse of your company before developing an action plan

Successful execution starts with finding out what employees and organizations want and need.

KPMG took an innovative approach to understanding diversity and inclusion challenges and opportunities in their organization. They turned to crowdsourcing, setting up a 72-hour online conversation called a “jam,” in partnership with the HBA. Jams are considered a highly effective tool to surface ideas and inspiration from many, and then refine them as a group to create novel and effective solutions.

Over the course of three days, hundreds of employees — including women and men from all management levels — collaborated in real time. Participants were encouraged to build on and challenge each other’s ideas, leading to deeply insightful and highly actionable outcomes.

“KPMG’s unique approach allowed the company to capture the voice of their customer from a vast global organization,” says Cooke. “With both broad and specific input about the company’s culture and practices, they were able to identify and group pain points in order to develop relevant, targeted, and measurable solutions.”

With an easily repeatable methodology, KPMG will be able to replicate the study in the future to evaluate change. The company is also partnering with the HBA to disseminate information in publications, case studies and more in order to add to the collective knowledge around gender parity.

Build partnerships to enrich, expand, and sustain your WLI

Each of the three 2018 ACE award winners have built strong partnerships with the HBA and other organizations dedicated to diversity and inclusion.

For Insigniam, a nearly decade-long partnership with the HBA has proven to be highly effective and mutually beneficial. With approximately 60 employees across the globe, the company is a model for how small businesses can leverage the HBA’s development programs and industry presence to accelerate the development of their women leaders and drive broader business goals.

Insigniam has integrated the HBA’s offerings as a core component of their company’s employee leadership development. Employees at every level are encouraged to use HBA programs to build their network and skills and HBA volunteer opportunities to strengthen their leadership experience. The company ensures a strong partnership through ongoing communication, aligning and tracking goals and identifying key opportunities throughout each year.

Insigniam’s relationship with the HBA is supportive, both financially and through hands-on engagement. “Insigniam’s senior leaders frequently and freely share their knowledge for the good of the HBA and its members,” says Cooke. “They deliver high-value workshops, serve on the HBA’s Advisory Board and in HBA chapter leadership roles, and share their methodologies to help us advance our gender parity goals.” These engagements allow Insigniam to not only give back, but also to showcase their company’s expertise, perspectives, and thought leadership to key industry leaders.

The fact that Insigniam has achieved gender parity — with women leaders now representing 60 percent of the company’s partners and 55 percent of their consultants— speaks volumes.

For more information about the ACE award and gender parity, visit