Twice as likely to be promoted? How B of A's sponsorship program boosts diversity

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Climbing the ladder at a large company can be daunting. At Bank of America, promising women and minority candidates are given personalized attention early on to help make that climb a little easier.

Each year a leadership development team inside the company identifies 100 candidates for its Diverse Leader Sponsorship Program, pairing each individual with an executive sponsor.

The two work together for 10 months to help the protégé find opportunities to connect with other leaders, expand and refine skill sets, and advance their careers.

During the year, there are program events, assessments and feedback, but each relationship is also given a chance to build on its own without a defined structure.

The program, which has been around for a little more than a decade, is double the size it was in 2007, with a total of 200 protégés and sponsors annually.

Sheri Bronstein, a global human resources executive at B of A, said that the program "is one of many ways we invest in the development of our talent and help them advance their careers," while building diversity in the talent pipeline.

It also has shown results: Bank of America's internal research indicates that participants in the program are twice as likely to be promoted compared with other employees.

Cynthia Bowman, now chief diversity and inclusion officer at B of A, is one such veteran of the program. She was selected to participate soon after joining B of A in 2007, sponsored by Bronstein, and has since become part of Bronstein's leadership team.

Two years ago the program was expanded to employees in Jacksonville, Fla., where the company employs about 8,000. Bronstein said that the Jacksonville program is being used as a pilot, and B of A plans to take what it learns there and apply it to other locations eventually.

B of A is being recognized for having one of the Top Teams in Banking, as part of our Most Powerful Women in Banking program. This is a reflection of the strong female leaders there who are contributing to its strategy and bottom line and of its commitment to initiatives to help more women advance into the senior ranks.

More 2017 Top Teams:

Bank of America is also trying to encourage dialogue between employees of different backgrounds.

The company's "Courageous Conversations" series, started in 2015, has brought together executives and community and national leaders to provide insight into issues such as social justice and racial equity that are sometimes hard to talk about in the workplace. In one example from this year, B of A hosted a conversation in Los Angeles on the 25th anniversary of rioting following the verdict in favor of the police officers involved in the Rodney King case.

"Encouraging time for dialogue helped our employees learn about different perspectives, and identify and address some of their own biases, in many cases that they weren't even aware they had," Bronstein said.

"These were such big issues and events - protests and loss of life - that were also very personal to so many of us. We know that our employees don't just stop their feelings when they come to work."

Headquarters: Charlotte, N.C.

2016 Financial highlights:
Assets: $2.2 trillion
ROE: 6.71%
ROA: 0.82%

Female representation among corporate officers: 31%

Female representation on operating committee: 38%

The Team: Cathy Bessant, Jennifer Boussuge, Cynthia Bowman, Sheri Bronstein, Candace Browning, Karen Fang, Anne Finucane, Christine Katziff, Katy Knox, Michelle Moore, Lauren Mogensen, A.J. Murphy, Tram Nguyen, Andrea Smith, Meredith Verdone, Anne Walker, Anne Clarke Wolff

Bank of America also had a Top Team win in 2015.

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National banks Workforce management Career advancement Bank of America Women in Banking