For all the tenacity and intelligence Katy Knox and her colleagues at Bank of America see among the female entrepreneurs being mentored through the company's Global Ambassadors Program, the topic of money can trip up some of them.
Knox, B of A's head of business banking, witnessed this firsthand on a recent trip to Belfast for the program. Participants would speak with confidence about their efforts to improve the Indonesian healthcare system or revitalize the tourism industry in Rwanda. But "when it came time to talk about financials, they would skip over it, or their enthusiasm would dip, or they'd get nervous," Knox says.
To help the businesswomen get a better grasp of financial reporting, B of A decided to expand the program. It had started out with the company's female executives going on weeklong mentoring trips to far-flung places like Brazil, Haiti, Libya, Poland and Somalia. But it now includes longer term coaching via Skype, conference calls and instant messages for 25 participants, with plans to enroll more next year. They are matched with women in B of A's small-business and middle-market segments.
The program, a partnership with the nonprofit Vital Voices, benefits participants on both sides of the mentoring relationship. It gives budding female leaders and entrepreneurs in emerging markets the opportunity to learn from the considerable financial acumen and management skills of B of A's execs. It also allows the execs to learn about different cultures and feel a sense of ownership in helping make an impact. "It's very rewarding for them to get involved," Knox says, "and the mentees love it."
The initiative is among several at B of A that aim to raise women up either externally or internally. One that seeks to encourage greater internal collaboration got underway last fall. The inaugural Global Women's Conference brought more than 300 female executives from around the world to New York City to learn strategies to help them advance their careers.
"We have a variety of programs that support women, but we realized we didn't have one central program that brought together all of our senior women," says Geri Thomas, B of A's chief diversity officer.
In keeping with the 2014 conference theme of "Pay It Forward," attendees were to relay the leadership advice they'd received to others still in the early stages of their careers.
B of A also has enhanced its support for working parents. In 2014, its child-care program expanded to include reimbursements of up to $240 per month for each child of employees with family incomes of $100,000 or less. "We want our employees to know they can focus on their work and not be concerned about their children's care when they're away," says Thomas.
2014 Financial Highlights:
Assets: $2.1 trillion
Female representation among corporate officers: 47%
Female representation on operating committee: 33%
The Team: Cathy Bessant, Candace Browning, Lisa Carnoy, Titi Cole, Karen Fang, Anne Finucane, Christine Katziff, Katy Knox, Jana Litsey, Katie Morgan, Lauren Mogensen, Tram Nguyen, Andrea Smith, Geri Thomas, Anne Walker, Anne Clarke Wolff