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How companies like Merck and CVS Health are tackling the leaky P&L pipeline

February 24, 2022, 2:21 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Texas’s governor categorizes health care for trans kids as child abuse, Hello Sunshine acquires the Home Edit, and two little words are crucial to getting more women of color in the C-suite. Have a thoughtful Thursday.

– Two little words. While solving systemic racism and sexism is a lofty goal for companies, there are plenty of smaller roadblocks along the way that prevent women of color from advancing to the C-suite, and are well within a company’s power to address—like who gets crucial, financially-tied leadership experience at work.

Operational oversight of a company’s profit and loss, commonly referred to as P&L, is a key benchmark for C-suite potential. Unfortunately, many women of color rarely get the opportunity to take on this responsibility, barring them from corner office roles. P&L responsibility is characterized as having ownership of how a company’s resources are allocated in an effort to drive revenue. An executive with P&L oversight can attribute aspects of a company’s positive financial performance to their work and, conversely, is at fault when those financial results miss the mark. In essence, leading a P&L function is a critical component to climbing the corporate ladder.

But women often miss out on gaining P&L experience. Just 31% percent of women say they have P&L experience, compared to 71% of men, according to research by Seramount. Of the 31% of women who have P&L experience, 74% are white and just 26% are women of color.

“In many organizations, we’re steered toward supporting roles like chief of staff,” says Celeste Warren, VP of global diversity and inclusion at Merck. “Some of those roles should be good launching points for going into the operational roles, but a lot of times they’re not.”

Merck is participating in a new program run by the organization Paradigm for Parity, which aims to close this very gap. Over the next six months, high-potential women of color in the first five to 10 years of their careers will learn the ins and outs of a P&L role. Each candidate is running a company through an online simulation, receiving executive coaching and connecting with mentors. Companies like CVS Health and Bank of America have put forward 17 employees to take part in the initiative. Paradigm for Parity CEO Sandra Quince says companies are increasingly asking themselves: “How are we developing our women to be ready to take on these roles?”

The Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce holds the State of Inclusion featuring speaker Sandra Quince.
Sandra Quince, CEO of Paradigm for Parity.
Tulsa Regional Chamber

It’s an approach to career development that supplements some of the hard skills many leadership trainings lack. “There are programs we have for building leadership capabilities,” Warren says. “But we don’t have anything specifically designed for women of color for development into these operational roles.”

Marquisha Smith, a VP who manages the North American market at the human resources firm LHH, is one of the program’s participants. She already oversees a market that makes up 70% of her company’s business, and is at a pivotal point in her career where she is taking on more P&L responsibility. “When I think about positions I’ve applied for in that past, I just did not have this level of financial acumen and it held me back from being able to jump into those positions,” she says. “This program, and its specific focus, have got me questioning: What’s next? Do I want to jump into the next role?”

Paradigm for Parity hopes that in 18 months, the women who are now learning the P&L ropes (or simply getting a refresher) will have advanced into operational roles. As Quince puts it: “These women will walk away confident they can take on these roles. Not only that, they’ll be qualified to do so.”

Emma Hinchliffe

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"I've never in my life thought of myself and the word legend in the same breath. I guess I am one."

-Rita Moreno, on the cover of Town & Country's "O.G." issue. 

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