Stories From High Potentials Who Made It

By Barbara Frankel

Are your high-potentials at risk? As the economy continues to improve, companies increasingly tell us their talent is being poached—especially that finite group of Blacks, Latinos, Asians and women in the pipeline.

There are three surefire best practices that the top companies holding on to high potential diverse managers have:

  • Flexible work environments

  • Cross-cultural mentoring

  • Room to fail

  • Exposure to those in the corner office

We spoke to three companies who have excellent rates of retention and promotion of underrepresented groups. They have developed strong talent-development programs and pay close attention to engagement of these high-potentials. An index of these companies—Sodexo, EY and Marriott International, Nos. 2, 3 and 16, respectively, in the DiversityInc Top 50—shows they have significantly higher representation of Blacks, Latinos, Asians and women than the national average and the Top 50.

Management Representation
U.S. (EEOC) 2.9% 3.7% 4.6% 24.9%
Top 507.2% 6.3% 10.4% 41.8%
Index10.2% 8.8% 10.5% 45.8%

How do they do it? Here are three stories from high potentials who climbed the ladder:

Mentoring With a Difference


Eowyn Adams, SodexoEowyn Adams was a chef working in a hotel, with a young son, when she heard about an opening at Sodexo’s healthcare facilities. “The learning curve was very steep for me but I needed a change. When you are a chef it is expected that you will work 60–70 hours a week and it wasn’t working with my personal situation,” she explained.

From the time she came to Sodexo, she found remarkable the ability to branch out and learn new areas of expertise.

“I still have colleagues in the hotel business and the food-service industry and I have been solicited. But I don’t want to leave Sodexo,” she said. “Quality of life is so important. I am getting what I need from my employment. If everything is working, why change?”

A big bonus for her has been Sodexo’s IMPACT program, which pairs high-potentials (many from underrepresented groups) with senior executives for one year.

As part of the program, she was paired with a male senior executive in Toronto (she is in Cleveland). They rarely met in person but she says the exposure to a different side of the business and a different type of leadership was invaluable.

“He’s very collaborative and has an indirect style of leadership. I am much more direct. I lay it all out. He doesn’t give you the answer but leads you to it. It helped me learn how to build a team and get people more engaged in their positions,” she said.

Adams is now an Area General Manager with 10 salaried workers and 100 hourly workers reporting to her. She says Sodexo is helping her learn how to be a corporate leader. “I’m interested in overall company strategy and strategic client relationships,” she noted.

Her involvement with IMPACT has led her to join Sodexo’s Inclusion Council, a partnership between HR and operations on corporate culture and engagement opportunities.

What Sodexo Does

“When hiring, we implement a comprehensive sourcing strategy aimed at bringing a highly talented and diverse candidate slate for each position,” said Dr. Rohini Anand, Senior Vice President and Global Chief Diversity Officer. “Our diversity scorecard provides accountability for hiring and retention of women and minorities and the scorecard is linked to incentive compensation. For reductions, our corporate HR and legal teams engage in race/gender/age adverse-impact analysis for the affected populations.”

The company’s emphasis on accountability, metrics and mentoring has helped it develop several remarkable programs that improve retention of high-potentials, especially from underrepresented groups.

Specific initiatives that improve retention:

  • • Emerging Leaders program with particular focus on women, Blacks, Latinos and Asians in P&L roles. The program is a leadership pipeline for high-potentials. Through the succession-planning process, high-potentials are connected with a mentor that’s right for them and they also get exposure to senior leaders.
  • • Executive Talent Reviews. From President and CEO George Chavel to mid-level division managers, there is a diversity discussion in all talent reviews, Sandy says. “Retention risk is part of the discussion and part of the action planning with regard to the pipeline,” she says. Each business segment has an annual process to identify and outline development plans for high-potentials.
    • IMPACT mentoring, now in its 11th year, will have 170 partnerships this year and, according to Jodi, there is a specific mentoring pipeline initiative to support the growth, engagement and retention of high-potentials.


Support After Failure


Ray Bennett, Marriott InternationalRay Bennett came to Marriott in 2001 from Pepsi Bottling Group because of an opportunity for a bigger job. He was immediately struck by the culture differences. “Pepsi was a great organization if you were talented; they would promote you. But if you were to fail, they didn’t allow you to fail often. Marriott is a company that takes really good care of its people. They look for the opportunity to promote but at the same time, if people are not doing well, they support them so people can do better,” he said.

Bennett is now Chief Lodging Services Officer, The Americas, where he oversees more than 3,200 hotels in North, Central and South America. He is a member of the Global Operations Services Leadership team.

Yet just a few years ago, he left Marriott to go to a major retailer, after being solicited numerous times by other organizations. Two weeks into the job, he realized he had made a major mistake. “You hear a lot in the job interviews but the reality was different. My values aligned much more with Marriott’s,” he said.

Marriott took him back and he’s been on the fast track ever since. He has participated in several executive-development programs, including the Emerging Leaders program that benefits women, Blacks, Latinos and Asians.

“Talking to females and diverse individuals who have left, I would say that 80 percent say they wish they were still at Marriott,” he explained.

As an example, he notes that other companies often wait until the last minute to inform staff of layoffs. When Marriott decided to sell its food-distribution business, former CEO Bill Marriott had all of the senior leaders, including Ray, talk to the associates personally a year in advance.

What Marriott Does

Retention of all employees is a high priority, but the company works to ensure that its hotels reflect its customer base, which means diversity. Marriott’s retention efforts focus on individuals, but David notes that the company’s engagement rates are equal for men and women globally and for all race/ethnicities and for gender in the United States.

A recent focus on Millennials has increased their engagement between 10 and 15 percent but, he says, Marriott is careful to keep its Boomers engaged as well. “We would not want the Boomers to feel that they no longer matter as we focus on Millennials,” said Dr. David Rodriguez, Marriott International’s Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer.

Specific initiatives that improve retention:

  • • Encouraging fresh ideas and younger and older workers learning together.
    • Cross-generational mentoring.
    • Repositioning of employee resource groups as talent network groups.
    • Moving more high-potentials between roles, including generalist roles in hotels, so they get a variety of experiences.
    • Emerging Leaders program focused on high-potential Blacks, Latinos, Asians and women, includes sponsorship by senior leaders.


Culture of Flexibility


Lisa Banker, EYLisa Banker came to EY 13 years ago, after she was recruited from an MBA program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “Several prospective employers came on campus and gave us presentations. EY’s corporate finance practice described the different functions and I was interested,” she recalled.

What sealed the deal for her was that when she interviewed with a senior partner, a partner and managers, “I noticed a level of camaraderie with this team that was different than the other companies. That is why I selected them.”

Today, she is a Senior Manager. She’s also married (her husband, Amit Banker, also works at EY and is a Partner in the Tax practice) and has two children.

Lisa’s had offers to leave EY but what has kept her at the firm are two things – a culture of great flexibility and focused talent development.

“I am happy at EY and will continue to stay here. As my career progresses and my life changes, the firm has been very flexible. I’ve had different roles, different functions.”

When her first child was born 10 years ago, she wondered if she should look elsewhere. “So I sat down with one of the woman partners and talked about how she balanced her life. I realized the firm had a lot of programs—and mentors—to help women be successful,” she said. She went on a reduced schedule for five years (30 hours a week, two days at home) and then felt good about coming back full time.

Banker also benefited from one of EY’s signature talent-development programs, Global NextGen. The two-year leadership program develops high-performing senior managers who are the next generation of partners. More than 90 percent of participants stay with EY.

What EY Does

“My job is to worry about retaining our people. If I had one single worry, it would be to do everything we can every single day to make EY the place for people to enjoy a rich career,” said Kelly Grier, EY Americas Vice Chair – Talent.

Kelly cites EY’s highly inclusive culture as key to retaining high-potentials. “The culture here is a distinguishing factor that is so attractive to the talent,” she said. “That gives us a leg up.”

Specific initiatives that improve retention:

  • • The Global NextGen two-year program to identify future partners. The goal is to let them connect more with senior leaders, become more market-focused and develop a global mindset.
    • Global New Horizons, which sends high performers to emerging markets to share knowledge within key account teams or industries.
    • EYVantage Advisors, which sends talented high-potentials to emerging markets to leverage workplace skills to grow business with local entrepreneurs.
    • EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors Program, a collaboration with the Earthwatch Institute (which does climate change research) that sends high performers below the manager/assistant director level on a week-long expedition in Brazil or Mexico.

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