What's Working

Development, Retention

Help Women Build Relationships and Influence

In 2007, IBM piloted a program designed to help women leaders develop the skills necessary to become executives within the organization. A decade later, more than 3,000 women have completed Building Relationships and Influence, and about 20 programs are held around the world each year. 

Support and Challenge

Building Relationships and Influence was designed to strengthen the pipeline of women executive leaders at IBM. Each year, managers in IBM offices around the world (including, but certainly not limited to, the legal department) use a talent assessment process to identify high-potential women who are three-to-five years from a promotion to a bigger leadership role.

“Many women still think that, if I just keep my head down and do my work, somebody will notice,” said Anita S. Guha, Global Diversity Learning Portfolio & LaaS Leader, IBM Learning. “But we dispel that myth very quickly. It might have worked at more junior levels, but it is no longer enough.”

Women come together in cohorts of 18 for a three-day, face-to-face workshop, where they learn strategies for influencing, networking, and relationship building. But there’s also a focus on small group sharing and problem solving, through what IBM calls Support and Challenge groups.

“They share a lot, get to know one another, get ideas on how to address issues – sometimes just getting five other colleagues to truly listen to them is helpful,” Guha said. “My BRI chat group still exists even though I went through the program six or seven years ago. I know that I lean on the group for support and also had them challenge me to get out of my comfort zone to take a new role.”

Connections Community

After the in-person meeting is over, women are encouraged to stay in touch with their Support & Challenge groups. All BRI Alumni also have automatic access to an online community where they can talk, share resources, and arrange meet-ups.

“We also draw on BRI for a lot of our women-focused diversity at IBM,” Guha said. “If you need a woman speaker for an event, we might draw on the list of BRI Alumni to pick out an appropriate speaker.” Just in time for International Women’s Day, IBM has launched a set of facilitated conversations in the style of a book club, where BRI Alumni facilitate discussions with small groups of junior women on topics like career planning and personal branding.


While it’s difficult to measure progress beyond anecdotal evidence, IBM has seen an increase of women in leadership roles. In particular, a 2010 global study found “a high correlation on both promotions to higher bands and retention within BRI Alumni.” The study also found that over three years, there was a 20 percent increase in women in executive roles overall. 

For more information, please contact Gayathrie Maediratta, Corporate Communications, IBM India.


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