General Electric’s initiative, Developing Women Leaders: Synergistic Forces Driving Change, features an alignment between two core people-management efforts: Session C and the General Electric Women’s Network (GEWN). Session C has been used to identify and develop top talent at GE since the 1950s; GEWN has been cultivating women leaders since 1998 and is now active through 118 hubs in 60 countries. Top talent identified in Session C is tapped to lead GEWN hubs and regions, giving women hands-on leadership experience. At the same time, ongoing GEWN events provide leadership education opportunities. GEWN operates like a GE business unit, and its annual objectives are set in alignment with overall GE business goals.
GEWN goals and results are strengthened by strong senior leadership support. Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt regularly visits geographic business unit leaders and network leaders to review business strategy and discuss talent needs. Mega-network events and network leadership activities give his senior executive management team the opportunity to meet with the high-potential female talent pool identified via Session C. The initiative’s success is ensured further by strong accountability mechanisms (e.g., all managers at the Executive Band level and above should have at least one diverse candidate on their succession slates) and pervasive communication efforts.
GE’s initiative has yielded impressive results: Representation of women corporate officers increased from 5 percent to 13 percent between 1998 and 2002; representation of women at the Senior Executive Band level increased from 9 percent to 14 percent; and women at the Executive Band level increased from 18 percent to 21 percent during this time.