Driving Diversity and Impact at BAE Systems Through Mentorship and Sponsorship

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At Twomentor, we share bi-weekly thought leadership from phenomenal executives and social entrepreneurs focused on: a diverse skilled workforce, social impact entrepreneurship, mentoring cultures, sponsorship and elevating women in STEM careers. We had an incredibly thoughtful discussion this week with Curt Gray, SVP of Human Resources & Administration for BAE Systems, Inc. on how to get mentoring and sponsorship more ingrained in the company. He addressed something for us that we have been really focused on for corporations and organizations, “Is mentoring a nice to have, or a have to have?” + “How do you get the support you need from the top if you want to build an initiative at your company. We are delighted to share Curt’s perspectives and deep experience with you today:

Julie@Twomentor: Curt, a lot of companies struggle with ‘selling up’ their mentoring and sponsorship initiatives. I was delighted to hear that at BAE Systems Inc., your CEO and COO are executive sponsors championing one of your top programs — can you share more about this?

Curt: The issue many companies face when trying to get leadership support is in making the business case for implementing HR initiatives like mentorship and sponsorship programs. Leadership’s focus is and always will be the success of the company, so everything we do as HR practitioners must map back to that. At BAE Systems, I think our success in this area is a testament to the emphasis our team has put on infusing data analytics into our HR practices. Our EC Sponsorship program – our top program which is championed by our CEO and COO – was partly born out of data analysis.

In 2010, our team conducted an analysis of our workforce and recognized the need for more diversity in our leadership positions – and that the most effective way of getting there was through building a more diverse leadership pipeline. Part of our plan to address this was to launch an initial sponsorship program at the leadership level for a select group of high-potential women. The results from the first group to go through the program were hugely successful – 70 percent of the women participants received a significant promotion and/or role increase – and we saw similar results from the second cohort. The data we gathered pointing to the success of this program helped us make the case to leadership for a program that caters to all diversity dimensions across our workforce – that program being the EC Sponsorship program.

The EC Sponsorship program – which is 33 percent diverse, comprised of men, women, and people of color – is championed by Jerry DeMuro, our president & CEO, and Tom Arseneault, our COO, who each sponsor individual participants in the program. Program participants meet regularly with either Jerry or Tom and garner valuable feedback, career advice, and sometimes life advice. In fact, as one EC Sponsorship program participant puts it, “Tom [Arseneault] and I have held a number of career discussions that cover the full spectrum of work/life balance where our discussions are not just limited to the 9-5, office-based areas, but also to family and other non-work related subjects. It is reassuring to know folks at all levels in the organization perform the same balancing acts.”

Not only do Jerry and Tom serve as mentors to their sponsees, but they also help facilitate career opportunities, advocate on behalf of their participants, and help them excel in their positions. In fact, in the past 18 months, 73 percent of the participants have been promoted or had a significant job expansion.

“It’s no secret that an engaged workforce can take a business from good to great and we recognize that mentoring and sponsorship opportunities play an important role in fostering the development of our employees,” said Jerry DeMuro, President & CEO of BAE Systems, Inc. “As an executive sponsor for our high potential talent program, I’ve seen firsthand how we can have a wide-reaching impact on the business. Many of the participants have advanced to leadership roles within the company and are now in the position to pay it forward to our early career talent,” shares Jerry DeMuro, President and CEO, BAE Systems, Inc.

Twomentor: In your opinion, is mentoring a nice to have or a have to have? Where do you plan to take your initiatives in the next 6-24 months?

Curt: Mentorship in the general sense is incredibly important to career development. Work ethic, expertise and abilities are only pieces of the equation – you also need the guidance of someone who has come before you and can give perspective on your career path. An organizational reality is that visibility and networking are keys (in addition to excellent performance, of course) to advancement. Sponsorship and mentoring help provide visibility and build networks.

At BAE Systems, our formal sponsorship/mentorship programs within the various business sectors have been put in place specifically so that employees have a resource as they progress through the various stages of their career. Although our official sponsorship programs across our business sectors are less than a year in, our participants are already seeing the value in these programs.

In fact, one female program participant, who is a senior financial analyst and is mentored by a Director of Finance, reflects, “My mentor was able to share relatable situations and conversations that both provided clarity on the course of action I needed to take with my current situation. He was supportive, yet challenged me that my path needed some extra effort on my part. I think we all have times were we need to step outside ourselves and get someone else’s perspective. My mentor provided that prospective and once I realized what needed to be done I felt relieved and confident that I could accomplish the task.”

As our sponsorship programs mature, we plan to take a deeper dive with data analytics to better measure the impact of our sponsor and mentoring efforts on our employees and business success. We’ll also look at ways we can expand our mentoring efforts, including putting in place a process where new employees receive a mentor after a certain period of time.

Twomentor: I understand you have an additional Sponsor program just focused on women and minorities, how is that going? Any metrics we can all learn from? Any push back from people who were not selected into this program?

Curt: I have not heard any specific pushback with respect to our Sponsorship programs. I think the fact that we are very transparent with our employees about our Diversity & Inclusion efforts puts these programs in context. At BAE Systems, one of our top priorities is to advance an inclusive culture where every employee feels valued and respected. Employees really contribute their best work when they feel heard, when they can apply their strengths, and when they feel included in part of a larger vision. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion has been strengthened across our business sectors through various programs and initiatives, particularly through our business sector sponsorship programs which are mainly focused on women and people of color – some comprised of at least 75 percent diversity and others that are 100 percent diverse.

One business sector program that is 100 percent diverse and has been running for a longer period of time than the others, has generated positive feedback from its participants, many of whom stated that their sponsor provided them with growth opportunities and valuable perspectives.

“The sponsorship program has offered additional insight into the organization,” says one female program participant, “and to have a senior leader advocate, support and encourage me in my current role and future interests has been an energizing opportunity. My sponsor has taken time to know me as a person, advocate for my interests, and share insights that I have turned around and applied in my own work.”

Another aspect that made this program successful was that its participants were able to attend a Quarterly Leadership Meeting where the top leaders in their business discuss strategy, future plans, engage in panel discussions and have an informal luncheon. Participants expressed the value in attending a forum where they could learn even more from leaders that they typically don’t see on a daily basis due to busy schedules.

Twomentor: How do you handle the matching program with Sponsors and Sponsees?

Curt: The ability to gain an outside perspective is one of the most important benefits of having a sponsor. In both the EC Sponsor Program and the business sector sponsorship programs, we try to match people with sponsors either outside their business or who they have not worked with extensively. This allows for more diverse thinking and insights, which often leads to a ‘reverse mentoring’ situation where the sponsor learns just as much from the sponsee as the sponsee learns from them.

As one program participant said, “Coming from a different background, outside my functional chain, my sponsor was able to offer different perspectives and considerations on various issues we discussed. Regardless of whether those different points of view ultimately changed the path I was pursuing, I benefitted from the exercise of broadening my thinking. Now, as I am processing information and making decisions in my day to day work, I take a moment to pause and consider whether there may be other perspectives I should seek out as a means of challenging my pattern of thought.”

Twomentor: What about your newer workforce? They probably don’t have the tenure to be sponsored on day one, year one, year two… what do they most need?

Curt: In the defense industry, your internal budgets for hiring new talent are at the mercy of federal budgets. In recent years, this has created what I call a “two-humped camel” where we have an uneven distribution of our workforce, with high levels of senior and junior talent from years when budgets were up, and a shortage of mid-level talent when budgets were down. Because of the shortage of mid-level talent, there is a need to accelerate junior employees’ career paths to help them make the jump to mid-level more quickly than in years past.

What junior people most need during this time is a trusted mentor/advisor who, along with their manager, will help them learn to navigate the politics in the organization, suggest development and experiences they need to advance their careers, and allow them to test their ideas in a safe environment. And this doesn’t need to happen through an official company program. Some of the best mentor relationships I have seen are where the more junior person proactively asks a more senior person who they admire to be their mentor. Very rarely have I heard that the senior person has declined, and often these relationships stand the test of time. So my advice to early career employees is to simply ask.

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Curt Gray is senior vice president, Human Resources & Administration for BAE Systems, Inc., responsible for all human resources and employment-related activities for the company’s U.S.-based businesses, which employs approximately 32,000 employees in the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, and Israel. His background encompasses a broad array of businesses including information & communications, commercial airplanes, and both commercial and defense electronics. Prior to BAE Systems, Curt has held positions of increasing responsibility at Boeing and Rockwell. He holds a bachelor’s degree in personnel administration from the University of Colorado, and an MBA and a master’s degree in organization development from Pepperdine University.

Julie Kantor is CEO of Twomentor, LLC, a high impact training company focused on talent strategies for a diverse workforce. We value mentoring cultures, building diverse sponsorship initiatives & an entrepreneurial mindset. We have experience working with Fortune 500 Companies, SMBs, Universities and offer facilitated (and fun) mentor + sponsorship training, Mentor Road Trip™ Flash Mentoring, best practice strategy and keynote speaking. Plug in to our unparalleled network in the entrepreneurship & STEM ecosystems to drive change. Learn more here

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