Knowledge Center

Alcoa Inc.—Building Opportunities for Women in a “Hard Hat” Company

In the midst of hard economic times, Alcoa’s initiative Building Opportunities for Women in a “Hard Hat” Company is increasing women’s representation in leadership roles and promoting gender inclusion in a male-dominated industry known for its demanding work conditions (e.g., 24/7 plant operations, heavy industrial work in mines, refineries, and smelters). The initiative began in 2008, when CEO Klaus Kleinfeld established new diversity goals and strategic priorities, and it is supported by the Alcoa Diversity & Inclusion Council, which oversees all of Alcoa’s diversity programs and Affinity Groups. Although the company was significantly affected by the economic downturn of late 2008, Alcoa continued to pursue its diversity goals, maintaining aggressive objectives and robust accountability systems to leverage its talent programs and improve  results. By communicating a motivating vision to all employees, Alcoa’s leadership team simultaneously improved transparency and highlighted the importance of inclusion to create a better work environment.

The initiative’s multiple innovative components are woven throughout Alcoa’s talent management processes: recruiting, mentoring/sponsoring, leadership development, and rigorous talent review and succession planning. Alcoa’s Affinity Groups encourage employee involvement in diversity across regions, and are a model for leveraging grassroots efforts to achieve business goals in a global organization. Each component of Alcoa’s initiative relies on global strategies, but implementation is localized to suit regional and operational contexts. For example, local HR teams leverage regional community development efforts and connections with local educational institutions for recruitment and professional development; this is especially helpful in remote locations such as Fjarðaál, Iceland, and Juruti, Brazil. Senior leadership support is strong, with the CEO and top leaders actively involved with, committed to, and accountable for the initiative.

The initiative’s success and sustainability can be attributed in large part to the integration of diversity goals into Alcoa’s organizational processes and core values, which are monitored by strong metrics and accountability systems. Alcoa has set very aggressive women’s representation goals for its industry, links diversity goals to  compensation for its top 1,000 leaders, and has made developing women into operational leadership positions a priority. In addition, Alcoa Foundation has invested in education initiatives focused on women and girls through partnerships with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the Girl Scouts of the USA, among others. 

Alcoa’s programs have helped attract and retain women at all levels in most of its businesses and regions. Despite a 30 percent decrease in Alcoa’s global workforce between 2008 and 2012, women’s representation increased during that period from 15.8 percent to 19.0 percent for executive roles and from 22.6 percent to 25.3 percent for professional and plant manager roles. At the same time, overall employee engagement scores dramatically improved, from 52 percent to 70 percent.