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By Liza Robbins.
“This programme was one of the reasons I sold my firm to you.”
“I was able to get a $50,000 client because of this programme.”
“I made my decision to work at your firm, because of this programme.”
Wouldn’t you a like a programme like that, in your firm?
These are all real quotes, by the way. And they’re all about one programme – CBIZ Women’s Advantage (CWA), which is designed to attract, retain and engage talented women at CBIZ, Kreston’s American firm.
This programme (technically program, because it’s American!) is an enormous success story.
Not only has it helped thousands of women gain valuable business skills, prepare for advancement and bring in new business, it has helped give CBIZ itself a competitive advantage.
If you’re attending our world conference in Delhi, you’ll hear about CBIZ Women’s Advantage in the presentation by Kathy Rhodes.
But the programme is so valuable that I believe everyone should know about it – so I caught up with national leader Lori Novickis, so I could tell you about it, too.
The programme has three components.
First, it helps women with professional development, by running networking circles for women at different stages of their careers.
Participants work through a set curriculum together.
In addition to building skills, “this allows people from different sides of the business to work together and get to know each other,” says Lori, “leading directly to business opportunities.”
But it’s not all formal programming.
CBIZ Women’s Advantage’s book club, which focuses mostly on professional development books, has been a big hit, with 900 participants to date.
“This was the biggest surprise to me!” Lori told me. “Whether or not you like the book, it allows you to have different types of conversations with colleagues, and to create connections that might not otherwise happen.”
Second, CBIZ Women’s Advantage encourages community involvement. It has partnered with Dress for Success International, a not-for-profit that provides business attire and training for women looking to get back into the workplace.
“Their goals aligned with CWA’s goals of helping women succeed in business,” notes Lori.
But while initially the aim was simply to give back, the philanthropic work has given CBIZ’s women enormous opportunities for professional development.
“We’ve raised over $0.5 million, so women have gained fundraising and project management skills, and become more visible within the firm. A dozen individuals have served on Dress for Success boards, developing their leadership skills.
“Plus, you get camaraderie and networking by running the fundraising campaigns.
“It’s notable how much community involvement drove the other pieces.”
Finally, there is a business development component, where programme participants refer more business to each other and hold networking events to meet new prospects.
This is one of the keys to the programme’s success, says Lori: “Everything we do is aligned with the company’s business goals.”
And it has impacted the business in a big way.
Since its launch in 2007, CWA has provided professional development to the equivalent of nearly half of CBIZ’s current workforce, and brought in millions of dollars in revenue to the firm.
And it has become a part of CBIZ culture, helping to advance the company’s flexible work arrangement and Parent Program that benefits ALL its employees, regardless of gender.
To set up a similar programme, Lori says that support from the top is key – but that it takes passionate individuals at the grassroots level to make it a success.
It is also important that you determine exactly what you want to achieve, and that you make a good business case for running the programme.
“There’s always a compelling case for it,” Lori argues. “More than 50% of your workforce might be women, but if they’re less than half your leadership you need to address that.
“People want to work for a company that has equal opportunity and fairness, work-life flexibility and a safe and respectful workplace. There are also many potential clients who want to work with firms who support diversity.”
CBIZ is an acquisitive company, and Lori says that business owners frequently cite CBIZ Women’s Advantage as a key reason they choose to sell to CBIZ.
“Obviously their main objective is to better serve their clients with the national expertise and resources that come with joining CBIZ.
“But they also want to take care of their staff, and to provide them with additional professional development opportunities.”
A decade ago this was a “nice to have”. Nowadays, she concludes, a programme supporting your female talent is a “must have” to keep your firm competitive.
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