Leigh-Lafever-Ayer

With a ‘Women of the Future Award’ under their belt and 45% of their hires female, Enterprise Rent-a-Car is racing towards a balanced workforce in a male-dominated industry. Leigh Lafever-Ayer, HR director, shares with Katie Richard their plans for future success.

What are your responsibilities as the HR director of Enterprise?

As UK HR director for Enterprise, I oversee all aspects of HR, talent, training and development for nine operating groups and the corporate headquarters.

Diversity is a key business strategy for Enterprise and is a major part of my role. I am responsible for diversity initiatives from new projects, training, systems, benchmarking and communication. We also reach out to our suppliers and customers, as well as to a wider network of businesses, through our activities during International Women’s Day, with our membership at Opportunity Now and our involvement in The Cherie Blair Foundation’s Women Entrepreneur programme by providing employee mentors.

Enterprise has just won the corporate award at the ‘Women of the Future Award.’ How do you nurture young women in business and create an environment that inspires success?

We’ve worked extremely hard to create a business which provides strong opportunities for women. There is more work to be done, but it’s invaluable to be recognised by external experts as a leading employer for women. We know that to ensure women form a representative proportion of our workforce, it’s essential that we invest in the development of our female talent.

Our focus has been on analysing the critical ‘life stages’ as well as barriers which specifically affect women at Enterprise. This has meant an emphasis on developing training and mentoring programmes that support women throughout their careers – from those who join us as young graduates right through to their progression into senior leadership roles.

We’ve also worked with our current senior and middle management teams to increase understanding of the specific needs of women and some of the challenges they face day-to-day that might be different from their challenges. Quite simply, identifying and nurturing talented women can be different.

This is particularly important to us as we are a ‘promote from within’ business and recruit the majority of senior vacancies from within the company. We need women to reach out for those senior roles.

Why is gender diversity a business priority for Enterprise?

We believe that a diverse and inclusive workforce has a positive impact on the bottom line. A study by the American Association of Management concluded that a mixture of genders, ethnic backgrounds, and ages in senior management consistently correlates to superior business performance in terms of gross revenues, market share, shareholder value, profit, productivity and the value of total assets.

Our aim is to ensure our workforce reflects the communities in which we operate. In our experience, gender diversity is incremental to business success, underpins customer service and has a direct impact on sales.  This is why diversity is one of our organisational values.

How has Enterprise challenged gender preconceptions in a male-dominated industry?

The motor industry as a whole has now recognised that women are vital to its success. We rent, buy and drive cars just the same as men.  Car hire is as relevant to women as it is to men. Really it’s about service and understanding the customer. It’s also about having diversity as a business strategy, not an HR issue.

We have focused on our recruitment efforts to ensure they’re relevant and appealing to women, especially female graduates, emphasising the opportunity for them to learn how to run their own business and to advance within our organisation.

How do you create role models for your female employees?

We run company-wide mentoring schemes, where aspiring female employees are paired up with a senior sponsor who provides advice, coaching and helps the employee network with senior people in the company. Mentors have helped aspiring females understand the support our organisation provides with adapting to ‘life’ choices and how this impacts their career.  In this programme, over the past 12 months we have retained more than 96% of our participants and promoted 10% into more senior roles. Our Women in Leadership group also sponsors a ‘confidence building’ training series to help advance women.

We are also fortunate that our CEO is female. Pam Nicholson is a daily reminder that women can make it right to the top of the business.

How do your training and development programmes support women in your organisation?

Our three-stage diversity training focuses on understanding business benefits, building awareness, recognising bias and creating a culture that provides all employees with an equal chance to succeed. Diversity and development is a key part of performance reviews for all managers and all female progression schemes are supported by our management teams and success is monitored via appraisals.

As a woman working in an organisation that champions female leadership, how has the company culture contributed to your career progression?

Career progression at Enterprise is completely transparent. We use a balanced scorecard to identify talent and establish when employees are ready for promotion. This means that I was able to progress as much as I wanted to – and I wanted to! I won’t pretend that I didn’t have big goals.

In my position, one of the areas of special focus is helping women to grasp the opportunity that is there. Many women readily admit that they are more cautious about putting themselves forwards for a role than men. Even when their balanced scorecard is demonstrating ability, they may hesitate and wonder if they really are ready. Our mentoring, networking and development programmes are designed to help women overcome these hurdles.

How does Enterprise plan to continue to support female employees in the coming year?

At Enterprise, we’ve spent several years laying the groundwork for a diverse business. Now we need to drive its application in order to achieve our goals. In fact, we recently launched an internal women-focused newsletter called ‘Drive’ to show employee examples of success, facilitate networking and mentoring and share best in improving work/life quality.

We regularly review and measure our female workforce trends. By ensuring women are well represented in senior leadership, we are confident that we will be able to sustain a culture of gender equality.

We encourage female candidates to join our organisation through our recruitment activities and provide them continued support so they can reach their full potential.  Over the next 12 months our objectives are to increase our professional female hires currently at 43% to 45% and increase our females in management from 27.3% to 30%.

What are your top tips for other organisation looking to nurture female talent and leadership?

A diverse culture has to start from the top and be intrinsically tied to an organisation’s values. Senior managers need to be given the tools to make sure they manage in a way that fosters diversity. Companies need to help managers to recognise that there may be unconscious bias favouring men.

If you work in a company where there are ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ nights out, there may well be unconscious bias underneath the camaraderie – so watch out.

All managers need to champion diversity, share best practice and be recognised for achievements in diversity. You need to walk the walk. If your business champions work/life balance, don’t be sheepish about coming in late or leaving early when your personal schedule demands it. CEOs should be proud to leave work for the School Nativity. Be prepared to change the culture and challenge the status quo. Reward progressive achievement and make it part of ongoing strategy planning to develop a truly inclusive culture.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car is the world’s largest car hire company. It has a UK branch network of more than 370 locations, which means that over 90% of the population lives within 10 miles of an Enterprise location. This is part of a large global network across Europe, the Americas and several countries in Africa and Asia. 

Written by Katie Richard, online content editor, Changeboard

Katie Richard, online content editor, Changeboard

Online content editor for Changeboard; Canadian in London; lover of books, magazines & design.

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3 Responses to “Speeding towards female leadership”

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  2. […] Career progression at Enterprise is completely transparent. We use a balanced scorecard to identify talent and establish when employees are ready for promotion. This means that I was able to progress as much as I wanted to – and I wanted to! I won’t pretend that I didn’t have big goals.” Read full story > […]