A global campaign to promote women’s career progression has been recognised at this year’s Catalyst Awards.
The Awards celebrate exceptional efforts that help advance women in business. One of this year’s three winners is the global science-based innovation company 3M which was recognised for its I’m in. Accelerating Women’s Leadership campaign.
The campaign, which drew on the large number of women’s leadership forums across the company’s subsidiaries, brings together talent management and leadership development initiatives, including networking, mentoring, talent development, work-life and workplace flexibility programmes as well as external community efforts and spans more than 70 countries.
Commitment to gender diversity
The campaign started in 2011 and, in five years, saw women’s representation at the director level increase from 18.2% to 23% and at the vice president and above levels from 16.7% to 24.2%. Women leaders also made progress in traditionally underrepresented roles across regions, including an increase from 19.1% to 23.9% for technical and lab managers and from 11.4% to 17.4% for plant managers.
Currently some 34% of 3M’s global workforce are women and they make up 24.3% of the management team globally. In the UK five out of the 16 management operating committee are women, including the managing director.
Stella Hegarty, 3M UK & Ireland’s Human Resources Director, says the campaign is a continuation of 3M’s long-standing commitment to women employees. The company has had a women’s advisory committee since 1975 and has looked at issues such as career progression consistently over the years. The decision to start the I’m In campaign came about after Inge Thulin became CEO in 2012 and wanted to accelerate diversity across the company globally. “The aim was to create a global initiative which would strengthen how we support women across 3M,” she says.
“It provided a way of sharing the work we have been doing for a long time and which perhaps we haven’t communicated in the past.”
The campaign branding provided a consistent message across different countries which was recognisable and engaging. It could then be adapted to local contexts, for instance, in the US 3M ran a ‘smart girls rock’ initiative to encourage more girls into engineering; in India they promoted anti-harassment policies; and in Japan they focused on the issues for employees who are caring for ageing parents.
Under the I’m In umbrella were three main themes: individual development – every 3M employee has a development plan with short and long-term actions; work life experience, including healthy living, flexible working, peer mentoring and support; and energising the global culture by building stronger communities, for instance, UK staff have a day off a year to work for a good cause.
Stella says 3M puts a lot of emphasis on career development and providing “unique learning opportunities”. Staff are encouraged, for instance, to try working in different areas of the business and to think out of the box in terms of transferable skills. “Lots of core skills are transferable and we encourage staff to think about different areas. We have numerous examples of where people have changed their field completely. I think this focus on career development is a large part of why people tend to stay at the company so long,” she states.
Stella says 3M’s view of flexible working is about working in different ways. “It’s not about a one size fits all approach, working in ways that help people do their best work,” she says.
She admits that, as with all companies, there are still challenges with making flex the norm across all departments and persuading all managers of the benefits through success stories and case studies from other parts of the business and having senior managers who model it. “It’s an education process,” says Stella.
3M also has specific policies focused on women’s career progression, for example, sponsorship, peer mentoring, women’s leadership [the leadership committee is made up of men and women] and coaching focused on building women’s confidence to apply for promotion. “We have external speakers who come in and talk about their career stories, the risk they have taken, the push that made them take those risks,” says Stella.
In addition 3M does a lot of outreach work on women in STEM and runs a large community project in schools which highlights how doing STEM subjects opens up a diverse range of career options. “It’s about inspiring girls from a young age to continue to study STEM subjects. We also include their parents as they support their daughters with their subject choice,” says Stella, whose own background is in science.
She adds that 3M’s approach is not about targets and a tick box approach to women’s career progression, but about changing attitudes and creating a culture of inclusion. “It has to be authentic so it is not just this year’s thing. It has to come from the heart of what we are trying to achieve,” she says. “People can see through it if it is not authentic. The aim is to create a tipping point where inclusion is the norm. Individual stories and campaigns help build that momentum.”