How this technology services firm develops its women for leadership roles

Kyndryl's initiative promotes gender diversity, fostering a richer pool of talents and perspectives, ultimately enhancing organisational performance


At Kyndryl, the US-based IT infrastructure services firm born from the spin-off of IBM’s infrastructure services business, women constitute 30 per cent of the workforce. The company has implemented robust leadership-development initiatives specifically tailored for its female employees.

One such programme, known as ‘Building Influence’, is dedicated to nurturing the leadership potential of talented women at the entry level. This programme places a strong emphasis on practical, experiential learning opportunities to enhance leadership skills. It also provides them with the opportunity to connect with senior leaders, gaining valuable insights from their experiences.

Rajita Singh, chief people officer, Kyndryl India, believes that having women in leadership positions sets a powerful example. “It inspires and motivates other women within the organisation to pursue their own career advancement, ultimately fostering higher engagement and commitment among female employee,” she says.

The approach employed in this programme combines various methods, including the use of case studies, role-playing exercises and in-person classroom training. Case studies enable participants to delve into and analyse real-world scenarios relevant to their field, bridging the gap between theory and practical application.

Furthermore, role-playing allows participants to simulate diverse professional situations, providing them with a safe environment to practise and refine their leadership skills. The training sessions, led by experienced facilitators, offer structured instruction and guidance.

A critical component of the programme is its networking element. Women often encounter challenges when it comes to networking within male-dominated fields, influenced by various factors. The limited presence of women in such settings results in inadequate representation, making it difficult to connect with individuals who share similar experiences and locate suitable mentors.

“Having women in leadership positions sets a powerful example. It inspires and motivates other women within the organisation to pursue their own career advancement, ultimately fostering higher engagement and commitment among female employee.”

Rajita Singh, chief people officer, Kyndryl India

This is precisely where the programme plays a pivotal role. It not only helps women employees build connections within their own teams but also across various teams and functions. Such connections can lead to significant personal and professional growth through the sharing of experiences, encompassing work-related situations, industry-specific insights and other relevant aspects of their professional journeys.

Singh shares, “With the added networking component, individuals often find themselves establishing their own informal mentors or trusted contacts with whom they can engage in candid discussions about their careers. This additional benefit greatly contributes to the programme’s success by nurturing these invaluable mentorship relationships.”

Moreover, the programme is designed to assist participants in gaining insights not only into their past experiences within the company but also into the broader dynamics of the industry.

The next leadership-development programme for women is the ‘Developing Leaders Programme’. This programme is specifically designed for women in middle to senior management positions who are on a trajectory toward top leadership roles. It focuses on nurturing a strong leadership pipeline within the organisation, ensuring diversity among qualified candidates for leadership roles, and addressing leadership gaps.

The programme not only provides participants with opportunities to gain career-enhancing experiences but also offers certifications from prestigious institutions such as the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Yale School, Columbia School and others.

Launched in 2022, this global programme offers self-paced modules. Participants are required to select and complete specific modules within about a week, with the goal of finishing all required coursework for certification. Additionally, participants are expected to enrol in and complete between two to five courses, covering various topics from leadership behaviour to women in leadership.

The educational content of these courses is primarily interactive, emphasising the sharing of experiences and learning from new ones. The programme is promoted and accessible through Viva Engage, an internally popular platform within the organisation. It is generally designed for women managers, from middle to senior level, who are journeying towards higher leadership roles.

For certifications, the company collaborates with institutions such as Mahindra University. Real-life projects typically originate from these collaborating institutions, given their expertise in the field and their understanding of the company’s leadership development objectives.

Regarding project topics, the approach is collaborative, with external organisations or institutions providing recommendations. In most cases, the projects revolve around leadership challenges or comprehensive leadership-development experiences, including financial understanding for leaders.

The company assesses the programme’s impact and the career progression of its participants through various methods. The primary focus is on the outcomes achieved by women who have completed the programme.

“A high completion rate of 100 per cent underscores the value that each individual gains from their participation in these initiatives. To measure career progression, we adopt a proactive approach,” shares Singh.

After participants complete their certifications and engage in projects, they receive ongoing support.

“Talent reviews are conducted internally, where participants are actively considered and discussed at least quarterly. This continuous dialogue ensures that their career paths are regularly evaluated, positioning them well for emerging opportunities,” she adds.

Kyndryl offers another career-enrichment programme for its senior women leaders called Tanmatra, a cross-industry leadership initiative initiated by IIM’s. The primary goal of this programme is to provide women with a comprehensive understanding of top management positions, covering financial success, customer management, delivery and innovation.

As part of the programme, participants have the opportunity to leverage their best-practice experiences and engage in research with a community of female scholars on the programme’s campus. This initiative mirrors the approach taken by many other business schools and aims to establish a platform for senior women leaders in India to give back and support the development of emerging women leaders. Graduates of the programme form a community that facilitates knowledge sharing and mentorship.

“Having a strong support system is often considered crucial for the success of women in the corporate world, and this initiative by IIM aims to provide that support system to foster success among women in leadership roles,” Singh emphasises.

The programme, which began in 2021, is structured around three distinct modules. The first module focuses on personal leadership, emphasising self-awareness and understanding one’s unique leadership position. It helps participants recognise their current leadership status, define their personal leadership principles and identify steps to progress.

The second module is dedicated to functional leadership and aims to enhance knowledge and perspectives related to various functional aspects of management. This includes areas such as finance, operations, marketing, human resources and strategy, providing participants with a comprehensive understanding of these domains.

Lastly, there is a dedicated module for strategic leadership, which synthesises personal and functional leadership. Participants learn to think strategically within their current roles, covering topics such as corporate governance, ethics, negotiation skills and future-ready competencies.

These programmes are open to all employees, with each cohort consisting of 15-20 participants. The company limits the number of participants per cohort to ensure effectiveness. Those interested in the programmes can express their interest and sign up, and the process is transparent and open to anyone keen to participate.

The company ensures “equal access and opportunities for women of diverse backgrounds and experiences, and maintains a transparent approach to applications and openings.” Threfore, when there’s a career opportunity, it is initially made available internally. That is, the internal candidates are given a priority window of one week or five days to explore these opportunities before we consider external candidates. Developing our internal talent and providing them with career growth opportunities is of utmost importance to us, and this approach ensures that everyone is on an equal footing,” concludes Singh.

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