Gender Equity Award Winner Windstream Learns From New Assessment


David Avery, vice president of corporate affairs for Windstream Holdings Inc. of Little Rock, accepts the inaugural Olivia Farrell Gender Equity Leadership award from the Women's Foundation of Arkansas. He is joined by Farrell (left); Anna Beth Gorman, executive director of the Women's Foundation; and Mitch Bettis, publisher of Arkansas Business.
David Avery, vice president of corporate affairs for Windstream Holdings Inc. of Little Rock, accepts the inaugural Olivia Farrell Gender Equity Leadership award from the Women's Foundation of Arkansas. He is joined by Farrell (left); Anna Beth Gorman, executive director of the Women's Foundation; and Mitch Bettis, publisher of Arkansas Business. (Tony Baker)

A “deeper dive” into gender equity, inclusivity and diversity was already underway at Windstream Holdings Inc. of Little Rock when the publicly traded telecommunications firm filled out the new “gender equity scorecard” that netted it the inaugural award.

The scorecard also sparked ideas for new initiatives by revealing where the company could improve.

The “gender equity scorecard,” created by four Clinton School of Public Service students in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, is an internal assessment the school and foundation hope that Arkansas businesses will use to evaluate the state of gender equity in the workplace.

The award, which will be given on an annual basis to recognize a company that has worked hard to foster equality in the workplace, is named in honor of Olivia Myers Farrell. Farrell co-founded the Women’s Foundation more than 20 years ago and is the founder and former CEO of Arkansas Business Publishing Group. She sold the company last month to its president of six years, Mitch Bettis.

“We were thrilled to win this award. And it’s something that we’re very focused on at Windstream, and it really was a great honor,” said Mary Michaels, vice president of compensation and benefits for Windstream. “Gender equity, in general, has been a very hot topic [nationally], throughout 2018 especially. It’s something that we think about always, but, in 2018, we did do a deeper dive into gender equity and overall diversity and inclusion.”

David Avery, vice president of corporate affairs, said winning an award named for Farrell “was an added bonus.” He said, “She has been a tireless champion in this area” and naming the award for her is “much deserved.”

Avery heard about the scorecard when the foundation and Chris Bahn, publisher of special business publications at Arkansas Business Publishing Group, announced it during a panel discussion at the Clinton School in Little Rock in October. The panelists were Bahn; Sharon Tallach Vogelpohl, president of Mangan Holcomb Partners and principal at Team SI, both of Little Rock; WFA Executive Director Anna Beth Gorman; and Madeline Moore, human resources manager for Arvest Bank’s central Arkansas market.

He brought it to Michaels and Kristi Moody, Windstream’s senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary. They took it from there.

Michaels said filling out the scorecard wasn’t difficult. It was completed and submitted “within a week or two,” and the company learned a lot during that process, she said.

“We thought it was a great and very helpful tool. And, as we went through it, I think it helped us realize what we’re doing well and where we have opportunities,” Michaels said. “We thought it was well put together and really focused on the right areas.”

Scorecard Examines Policies
The scorecard asks employers about their company’s policies concerning financial literacy, flexibility, job skills, leadership, mentoring and resources.

Due in part to its scorecard results, Windstream recently launched a women’s networking group and is establishing a diversity and inclusion council this year that will be composed of senior leaders who report directly to CEO Tony Thomas.

The networking group meets for lunch quarterly, to hear from speakers in casual settings.

About the council, Michaels said, “The point of that is to set and uphold diversity and inclusion goals and practices, to really determine what is important to the company and then have those senior leaders really accountable for focusing on that and driving that within their organizations.”

In addition, Windstream is formulating four to five initiatives for this year that:

  • Include training that focuses on unconscious bias;
  • Address the lack of women in historically male-dominated roles (technicians — for example, the people who climb telephone poles); and
  • Ensure leaders are being mindful, creating and fostering a diverse, high-performing workforce.

The scorecard didn’t just show Windstream where it could improve. Through it, the company discovered that it excels at flexibility. Michaels said the technology that exists now helps the firm allow its employees to work from home. Working from home doesn’t hinder their productivity and helps them achieve “work-life balance,” she said.

Windstream is tracking pay discrepancies between men and women, too. There is a lot of complexity involved in determining the equity of compensation and benefits, Michaels said, but the firm is doing well in that regard. It’s doing better than the national average, she said.

Resources for Employees
Windstream also has resources for its employees, including tuition reimbursement and a program that encourages them to take charge of their health and wellness.

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While the company offers financial training, Michaels said, that is something it could do better. She said Windstream could better tailor financial training for women because they often take longer to make financial decisions and want to take more time to discuss financial topics compared to men.

Though the company’s overall workforce is close to 35 percent female and there are women serving on its board, Michaels said, another opportunity that exists is putting more women in leadership roles.

Windstream is addressing that by tracking promotion rates as well as working to make sure that both men and women are being treated fairly, have access to leadership training and have the opportunity to step up when a leadership role is available.

Michaels also cited a challenge specific to the telecommunications industry: Parts of it are male-dominated. Technicians are one example, she said. So the company is making sure it offers training and tools to women interested in those roles.

Though there are several ways to improve gender equity at its offices, Michaels said, Windstream, overall, feels good about where it started.

“I think we’ve always thought and recognized that there are a lot of benefits to improving diversity and inclusion, just in terms of attracting and retaining top talent and having a more engaged workforce,” she said. “So when you’re more satisfied, you can collaborate more, you have increased productivity. The more research we did, we really found that having a diverse workforce really is associated with overall improved performance for the company. So I think that is really motivating us.”