VMware is actively working to establish a more inclusive and diverse work environment that reduces the isolation among women at the company. One of their strategic programs, Dialogue Circles, addresses the issue directly through active peer group communities. Dialogue Circles is part of a larger corporate initiative to drive recruitment, development, and retention of female talent called VMwomen, which is sponsored by CEO Pat Gelsinger and Chief People Officer Betsy Sutter.
VMware partnered with Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research to launch the six-month pilot program in June 2014. Clayman developed a research-based curriculum to address the specific barriers women face on their path to leadership. The curriculum addressed topics like authentic leadership, power and influence, negotiation and leveling the playing field.
Each circle included two co-leaders selected by the VMwomen Council, a group of business leaders responsible for driving organizational change. The co-leaders then recruited four to six other members for their circles. To involve VMware leadership, each circle also had access to an executive sponsor who provided guidance and support as needed.
Each circle determined its own common goal. Stanford researchers trained co-leaders on the circle topics, and how to effectively facilitate discussions. Participants watched online videos before meeting for lively discussions on each topic. At the end of each meeting, members committed to one personal action they would take as a result of the discussion, and co-leaders followed up to see whether actions were completed.
Some circles comprised all women in technical roles, while others were a mix of technical and nontechnical women. Women technologists represented 43 percent of participants overall, which VMware hopes means some of the most isolated women were able to connect with others in the company.
VMware surveyed participants three times over the course of the six-month pilot program. By the end, participants were very positive about their experience. Compared to how they felt when they started, the women reported an 80 percent increase in access to peer networks, a 45 percent increase in career support, and a 21 percent increase in sense of belonging. They also felt their access to tools for career advancement increased by 70 percent. Most importantly, 80 percent of participants confirmed they took action as a result of participating in the program.
Through the survey, women also reported the personal impact the program had on their own growth and empowerment:
I am pro-actively increasing my circle of influence, stepping up and taking on new responsibilities and identifying sponsors.
We are looking out for each other in meetings and forums, encouraging and supporting each other.
I have crafted my story that I will use to create my brand.
VMware is building on the success of this pilot program by running a second group of 25 Dialogue Circles with over 200 participants throughout the company, including locations outside the U.S. such as Costa Rica, Europe and India.