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Executive Education


INSEAD Women Global Leaders Programme: A Successful Partnership

Organisational change through executive education

“When I was in New York last week, I discovered that our women’s programmes with INSEAD are rated the most effective leadership initiatives in the entire organisation,” says Eileen Taylor, CEO of Deutsche Bank’s UK banking subsidiary, with evident pride.

Back in 2009, when she had just been made Global Head of Diversity, Taylor was seeking new ways to break the proverbial glass ceiling and take women to the highest levels of the bank. She started with ATLAS, a highly successful, year-long, internal leadership development journey for the most senior women at Deutsche Bank – and the programme soon received rave reviews.

However, Taylor and her team knew that it was not enough to focus on the very top. In order to make a real impact, they had to build a pipeline of female leadership talent at the upper-middle-management level – and across the entire, global organisation.

Collaborative programme design

Taylor’s research inevitably led her to INSEAD professor, Herminia Ibarra, one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership development – and women’s leadership development in particular. Together they devised a one-week, intensive Customised Programme, based on Ibarra’s research and pedagogical experience. The curriculum focused on the key areas of: leading change, negotiation, influencing and networking. It also included 360-degree feedback, using techniques pioneered at INSEAD, and a strategic overview from very senior Deutsche Bank leaders.

At the same time, Ibarra assembled a high-level group of coaches and faculty to deliver the curriculum. “I was impressed by the way Herminia went about attracting the best professors for the various programme topics,” recalls Taylor. “And by the way in which she was keen to connect everything in the curriculum back to Deutsche Bank.”

Impressed or not, there was still a high degree of scepticism as to whether one week at INSEAD for a comparatively small group of women could really make an impact on a global institution like Deutsche Bank. And, as Taylor points out, it was a major commitment in terms of taking 35 key members of staff out of the office for a week. And that was only the beginning. Some of the women from the ATLAS programme – some of Deutsche Bank’s most senior executives – would also be brought to INSEAD as mentors, role models and speakers.

Small wonder then, that – to start with – Taylor committed only to one session of Deutsche Bank Women Global Leaders at INSEAD. At the same time, she was careful to build simple, measurable objectives into the programme from the outset, based on retention and promotion rates.

Measuring and explaining success

Six years and five INSEAD classes later, every second participant has been promoted within two years of attending the programme. For the alumnae of Women Global Leaders at INSEAD, the attrition rate is 50% lower than what it is for executives at this level across the company. Additionally, there are usually twice as many nominations as there are places.

So what is the secret of this success? Guelabatin Sun, who took over the role of Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion suggests that it lies in the involvement of senior managers and ATLAS women. “There’s commitment at the top,” she says. “And there’s a global network that has built up around the programme.” This goes far beyond participants keeping in touch. Every three years, there is an alumnae conference. And every programme includes a talk on strategy from a very senior global executive. “It’s not just about training. It’s about interacting with the Group Executive Committee,” Sun explains.

“And a major portion of the success is down to Herminia,” she adds. “Participants love the way she teaches and interacts.”

Ibarra herself modestly points to the wider team: “We’ve tweaked it over the years to include, for example, Professor Erin Meyer’s session on managing across cultures – which is highly relevant to a global organisation like Deutsche Bank. And Martine Van den Poel is one of INSEAD’s most experienced and effective coaching practice directors.

The power of research

However, it takes more than a great team to make a great programme. And Women Global Leaders at INSEAD is a case in point. It has benefited from Ibarra’s globally recognised research – and the fact that she is an expert on broader leadership and identity issues. “It’s not a programme about diversity,” she insists. “It’s about stepping up to a bigger role in terms of networking and leadership style.”

At the same time, Deutsche Bank benefits from her cutting-edge work on “second-generation” gender bias: the powerful yet often invisible barriers that arise from engrained cultural beliefs at a societal or organisational level. As Ibarra explains, women can be just as guilty as men of second-generation bias, or at least complicit in it. They may, for example, praise male leaders as assertive, self-confident or entrepreneurial, while dismissing women in similar positions of authority as abrasive, arrogant or self-promoting.

The programme, now held in a beautiful, restored château not far from Paris, provides a safe space away from the office in which to air these and other issues. Few organisations, however, are brave enough to take such a step. “It’s still unique,” says Sun. “I don’t know of any other companies who do anything similar on quite this scale.” More than that, it gets results than no one can argue with. Since 2009, the number of women at manager director level or above in Deutsche Bank has increased by 50% – a large proportion of whom are alumnae. As Taylor concludes, “It’s not just unique. It’s inspirational.”

 To find out more about INSEAD Customised Programmes, please contact us.