Earlier this year, LeeAnne Linderman realized that she would need to lay off longtime branch employees to meet cost-cutting goals at Zions Bancorp. With tough conversations ahead, she reached out to two other female executives who had implemented layoffs before.

"I know how to handle the legal and human resources side," says Linderman, the head of retail banking at Zions First National Bank before being promoted this year to executive vice president for retail banking at the parent company, which operates eight banks in 11 states. "What I wanted to know was how they had handled the emotional side. How do you handle the heartbreak?"

The frank conversations and tight-knit relationships among Zions' top women have proven crucial to their growth as leaders, says Linderman (who is one of our Women to Watch and is among those working to bring more diversity to boardrooms). She cites Lori Chillingworth, executive vice president of the small-business division, and head of operational risk management Ann Marie Thomas as two of her close confidantes.

To foster a similar bond with lower-level employees, and give them the chance to benefit from the experience of senior executives, the bank unit launched a formal mentoring program for women in 2009. The program has since expanded to include both genders and was made available in August to employees of the holding company as well. Of the program's 533 participants, 35% have received internal promotions, some of them more than once, according to the most recent internal survey.

The mentoring program gives employees a chance to immerse themselves in new areas of the organization too, says Carina Freeze, one of the participants. A few years ago, she was working in the executive banking unit but was eager to explore marketing and public relations. She enrolled in the program and began meeting every other week with communications manager Heidi Prokop. Ultimately, Freeze opted not to pursue marketing. But she says the mentoring experience gave her the confidence that's propelled her to her current position as assistant director of bank operations.

Meanwhile, Zions is spearheading an effort to help women throughout Utah rise through the ranks. This year the company helped launch the Women's Leadership Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to giving women access to leadership opportunities in politics and business. Among the institute's goals is to show companies like energy firm Questar how to set up mentoring programs modeled on Zions' successful template. Zions benefits by coaching its female employees "no matter what level they're at," says Chillingworth, who chairs the Women Leadership Institute's executive board. "We want to help other companies do the same thing to keep women in the workforce."

Headquarters:
Salt Lake City

2014 Financial Highlights:
Assets: $18.1 billion
ROE: 11.97%
ROA: 1.22%

Female representation among corporate officers: 39%

Female representation on operating committee: 39%

The Team: Dar-Lynn Beard, Hope Butler, Julie Castle, Lori Chillingworth, Jennifer Christopulos, Cory Gardiner, Kristine Goddard, Melisse Grey, Melinda Haynes, Meghan Holbrook, Stephanie Horne, Pamela Inghram, Dianne James, Gena Jones, Susan Jones, Rebecca Kearns, Maria Kranski, LeeAnne Linderman, Janet Louie, Crystal Low, Becky McSpadden, Cecilia Mitchell, Toni Nielsen, Nancy Olson, Heidi Prokop, Christine Redgrave, Cristie Richards, Rebecca Robinson, Jamie Schwarzenbach, Ann Marie Thomas, Kristy Walker, Elizabeth Whisamore, Ali Wilkinson, Gloria Wilkinson, Monica Williams

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