We all know how hard it is for females to advance in Corporate America. That's why I love what is going on at Burger King. Ten years ago, Sherry Ulsh and a few other women at Burger King Corp. got the great idea to form a women's affinity group to help advance female executives. Tomorrow, the group, Women's Leadership Forum, celebrates its 10th anniversary with an evening party. It's become a powerful networking opportunity, allowing women at the company to meet colleagues they otherwise would never get to know.
I wondered how this forum for BK women has thrived for 10 years when so many other companies have struggled with the concept of a women's initiative. Here's my Q & A with Ulsh.
Me: What do you think your Women's Leadership Forum has done right?
Sherry: We were founded as a grassroots group by the women here, not by the corporation. A group of us attended the Women's Foodservice Forum conference back in 1998 in Chicago. We were really energized by the whole idea. We came back here to Burger King and spoke to the head of the U.S. group and our diversity people. We said we wanted to start something to promote leadership and networking. The directer of diversity, a male, championed it. We also got the highest ranking women in the company to support us. We also branded ourselves as quickly as we could. We had a logo and asked everyone to come in business suits. We created the image of a professional organization so we were not just seen as women getting together for coffee.
Me: Still how have you lasted 10 years with all the changes in the company management?
Sherry: Our mentor program has really been our core. It's a world-class program. We now have 110 matches. It gives women exposure to different parts of the business and an opportunity to network and connect across departments.
Me: How many members does the group have?
Sherry: 376. About 15 percent of them are men. Initially it was open to anyone at our restaurant support center. When we opened the mentor program, we opened to include field members throughout the U.S. above restaurant level.
Me: What have you personally gained from being part of the group?
Sherry: A great sense of achievement. We look back now and say it grew to what we thought it could be. I've developed friendships. Personally, I've been able to broaden my own skill sets and I've become comfortable as a speaker.
This is the group's mission statement: "To develop the potential of emerging leaders at Burger King Corp. with a primary focus on women, by creating opportunities to learn, lead, and network within the organization and the community, thereby furthering the objectives of the strategic plan."
What questions would you like to ask Sherry Ulsh?