Thinking Differently about Women's Leadership Development

Jessica Hendrickson

Vice President
Region Sales

Altria Group Distribution Company

Our industry is seeing more change than we’ve seen in the last generation with a changing workforce and new challenges. In order to continue to lead into the future, it is critical for our company to truly tap in to the unique talents of every employee in the organization. One way to do that is identifying opportunities to better support our women and diverse leaders.

While I was leading the advocacy committee for our Women in Sales Network, I developed and piloted a new program to help Altria achieve our Inclusion & Diversity goals. Our company had set its first aspirations for diversifying leadership in 2016 with a goal to increase VP+ representation to 20 percent women by 2020. The leadership development program, Women Executives Leading and Learning (WELL Program), originated as a solution in support of that goal and in response to feedback from women across the company saying they wanted to see more women at the top.

My research showed that companies considered best-in-class for their focus on advancing women were investing in their most talented women leaders with specialized leadership development programs. The programs were focused on three core elements: personal leadership, business immersions, and creating productive, working connections with senior leaders.

The WELL Program was an immersive nine-month program focused on these components while leveraging robust 360 feedback, interactive classroom sessions, and senior leader mentorships. It was important that the organization and participants knew that the program was not created to "fix women" or because they were any less capable then men. This is simply not true. Instead, it was meant to amplify their already-strong talents by building their exposure to the business and providing access to the senior leader networks needed to advance one’s career.

We received positive feedback from the women in the first pilot and identified improvements for future pilots. The WELL Program is a great example of how the company is thinking differently about leadership development and supporting women.

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