Born in Havana, Neddy Perez realized at an early age the power of education as a way to break through the glass ceiling and overcome prejudice. As a result, she has worked with a variety of nonprofit organizations to support and create programs that empower people and remove organizational barriers. Perez now serves as Ingersoll Rand’s vice president and chief diversity officer. In that capacity she is responsible for developing and guiding the company’s global diversity and inclusion efforts.
Perez recently spoke with Diversity Executive. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Define a good global CEO candidate. What characteristics would you advise a company to look for?
Ideally good CEOs in charge of global operations should have at least worked outside of their home country for four to five years and had an opportunity to rotate at least through two to three of the company’s major divisions. Culturally, they need to surround themselves with individuals who can challenge them, not be risk averse and be astute enough to understand that how they do business in their home country is not necessarily how you do business outside of the home country. Integrity, respect for differences and willingness to listen to differing opinions or engage in healthy debate are also important.
What are your thoughts on Booz’s data? How important is it that most CEOs were male, from the same region where the company is headquartered and from that same country themselves??
The data does not surprise me at all, but it does sadden me. A good CEO does not have to be male or even from the same country. Selection of a good CEO should be based on the person’s overall understanding of the industry, ability to deliver business results and drive innovation or increase customer satisfaction to improve sales. I do believe that CEOs should at least have some working knowledge and/or experience in the industry and can understand a company preferring to go with an internal candidate as opposed to an external candidate, especially if the company has been doing well financially. But it does concern me that we are not seeing more gender and cultural diversity in the development of future CEOs.
What can diversity leaders to do to ensure their C-suite is as globally diverse as possible? What do you do specifically?
I am a strong believer in developing sponsors and mentoring relationships between senior leaders and more diverse candidates. At National Grid we created a unique approach to ensure that we were developing multicultural leaders by providing them not only with opportunities to experience international assignments, but also to map high potentials with senior leaders in the company who would serve as mentors and sponsors of the individuals.
With National Grid, what we were looking at was a British-owned company purchasing a U.S. company (KeySpan). The CEO and chairman, globally, were of British descent. The CEO of the U.S. was American. One of the things that we wanted to ensure was that as the company moved forward and continued to grow globally, that we would have leadership that was representative of the two countries that were engaged, part of that merger.
What we did was collectively worked with the talent management organization to create an initiative that was sponsored by the global diversity council, by a member of the board of directors as well as the past chairman and CEO in the U.S. as well as the chairman and CEO of the global company, which is based in the U.K., to identify high-potential candidates from both sides of the pot, male and female.
On the U.S. side we looked at U.S. affirmative action goals and objectives to ensure we had diverse talent beyond the gender piece. Most of these individuals changed from director level to vice president or vice president we wanted to grow to executive vice president position. Of those, some candidates were being considered for the CEO role.
In your mind, what has made the program so successful?
At Ingersoll Rand we created a Women’s Leadership Program, which was launched in Europe in partnership with the Center for Creative Leadership to develop and groom women for more senior roles. We increased our retention of women by 100 percent, and over 65 percent were promoted after completing the program. The success of the program was due to selecting women who were already high potential, providing them with skills sets to navigate the corporate culture, giving them a chance to showcase their talents outside of the current roles they had by working on business cases that were important to the company, but in addition and more critically partnering them with senior executives who became their internal sponsors and advocates.
Describe the impact study you did at Ingersoll Rand.
With Ingersoll Rand there was a challenge. Our challenge in Europe in particular was that we were turning over women who were in the middle manager and senior manager roles. What was happening is, Ingersoll Rand is a global manufacturing company. Traditionally in the manufacturing industry, there are not that many women who are part of a manufacturing environment. You see more women represented in areas like finance and accounting, human resources, in more traditional female-oriented roles. In Europe we realized we were losing quite a few women. Our turnover rate was over 50 percent.
We did not have women going into the operations environment and we didn’t have women with experience managing large P&L product lines. We did an impact study of the perception of women in manufacturing in Europe within our company. We interviewed senior executives, managers who had women reporting to them, and we also interviewed women who had left the company and women at the company who wanted to stay and potentially be part of this. We wanted to find out why they were more interested in leaving than staying and where they saw themselves. When we completed the impact study we ended up with a pretty good assessment of the fact that women just did not see a future for themselves, at least in Europe, with the company.
What made the CCL program so unique and different?
The unique elements that we had in the CCL program is we wanted the women to get exposure to other aspects of the company, so we had them work on business case studies. These were real, live, in the moment, just-in-time programs that needed input and creative ideas to be generated. They got exposure to other aspects of the company’s business, and the business sectors that came up with the case studies got feedback and input from a different perspective. That business case presentation was part of their graduation from the program, and they presented to the business leadership team in Europe.
The women got a chance to present to them and at the same time we partnered them with senior male executives of the company who had, for the most part, been mentors to men but had never been mentors to females. We purposefully selected these senior leaders because we knew they had been mentors before, but they hadn’t had the experience of mentoring a female, so we provided them with coaching and training on how to be a mentor and what were the differences between mentoring a woman versus a man. When we completed the program, a number of the mentors ended up becoming sponsors of the women who graduated the program. What I mean by that is they became their advocates when they were having promotion discussions and/or reviewing overall talent plans for Europe. As a result of that, we had our first woman selected to go into an operations environment. We had our first female executive promoted to be part of the executive leadership team in Europe.
In total we’ve put through about 29 women. We have had two cohorts who have completed the program, 15 women each year. This year we will be implementing this program in the United States and Latin America. Our goal is to also take this program to Asia and India — probably in 2015.
How do you pick the 15 women each year? What criteria must they possess to be selected?
Male leaders say they want us to consider this person. We redefined or modified the selection process slightly in year two to expand the level of women we were considering for the position, but in year one and consistently throughout the program, whether in the U.S, Latin America this year, Asia next year, what we have done is the women must be either a manager or senior manager or director level, that critical stage of do I stay or go. Then we look at overall performance — they must be in good performance standing, and we also look at whether they have been rated as a high potential or high performer. The other piece is they must have sponsorship from their manager and leaders. That person must commit that the individual can work on the project and will be supported to attend the workshops and conferences to develop their skill set. The women themselves must commit to being fully engaged in the program. You can’t miss a meeting or training session. They are provided with an executive coach who comes from CCL and makes sure they’re getting the training that they need to be successful.
Eric Short is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.