Training and mentoring programs are helpful, but sometimes employees just need quick guidance with one particular thing, be it reading financial statements or improving their work-life balance.
Women working at BMO Financial and its BMO Harris Bank unit can now get that kind of targeted coaching through a "micromentoring" program. The company, which is part of Bank of Montreal, decided to roll out the program for its U.S. employees in September after a three-month pilot over the summer.
Micromentoring aims to be less formal and shorter term than other mentoring programs, and is designed to help women improve a very specific skill, such as time management. The program is supposed to supplement other long-term mentoring relationships women may already have.
"It really grew out of employees' requests," said Laura Sikora, the regional head of business banking who spearheaded the launch of the micromentoring.
"They came to us and said, 'How can we, at a quicker pace than going through formal training, build our skills and take advantage of the deep expertise that we have across our U.S. business?' We have so many people with so much knowledge."
Those interested in being mentors can sign up through BMO Financial's intranet and list their specific skill sets.
Anyone who participates in the company's affinity group for women is eligible to be a mentee. Participants can simply search the intranet for mentors who are experts in the area they are interested in working on.
Sikora worked with a woman on reading financial statements during the pilot phase. The pair met for an hour every other week over three months. Since the micromentoring ended, the woman has come back to Sikora to tell her about specific examples of when she used her new knowledge.
The company's team of female bankers is headed by Alexandra Dousmanis-Curtis, who was promoted to the group head of U.S. retail and business banking in 2015. She is the most senior female executive in the U.S. organization, which is based in Chicago. She has helped launch important projects for the company, including features at its new smart branches like video tellers and mobile cash.
Developing female leaders at BMO Financial starts with a culture that wants to see every employee succeed, Sikora said.
When Sikora interviewed at the company 20 years ago, she was struck by the fact that several people asked her what she wanted to do next. Since then, all of her managers have encouraged her to discuss her career aspirations.
"In my mind, that sent a very clear message that my career goals were important," Sikora said.
"That question only gets asked through a deliberate, intentional focus on people and their development."
2015 Financial highlights (for bank unit):
Assets: $104.1 billion
Female representation among corporate officers: 48%
Female representation on operating committee: 26%
The Team: Leslie Anderson, Carolyn Booth, Larissa Chaikowsky, Julie Curran, Alex Dousmanis-Curtis, Justine Fedak, Sharon Haward-Laird, MaryJo Herseth, Christy Horn, Kara Kasier, Katie Kelley, Debbie Korompilas, Erica Kuhlmann, Margie Lawless, Cecily Mistarz, Cynthia Mufarreh, Erin Norton, Daniela O'Leary-Gill, Gail Palac, Pam Piarowski, Debbie Rechter-Lawson, Lois Robinson, Joanna Rotenberg, Sandra Sanders, Laura Sikora, Deepa Soni, Connie Stefankiewicz, Maria Tedesco, Caroline Tsai, Cynthia Ulrich, Cheryle Wittert, Susan Wolford, Ann Marie Wright