After noticing a gap in women’s advancement through the corporate leadership pipelines, Everwise, a San Francisco-based tech company, developed an online mentoring program that gives senior-level women the ability to connect with and establish mentor-protégé relationships with peers, mentors and executives throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

This year-long leadership and networking experience, called EverwiseWomen, was designed to emphasize the role mentoring plays in career advancement. Since it first launched one year ago, the program has expanded to New York City, LA and Seattle, and on Tuesday, it launched in Chicago. Companies such as Allstate, True Value and IDEX are among the companies in the city that have partnered with EverwiseWomen.

The program is designed for mid-career women who are looking to advance in their careers, said Elizabeth Borges, senior manager for EverwiseWomen, meaning that most women who are enrolled have between 7 and 15 years of experience behind them. Across the five cities, there about 200 women enrolled in the program, she said.

Using algorithms that function similarly to dating sites, EverwiseWomen takes the skill development areas that someone wants to improve upon and finds a mentor with experience in that area, according to Borges.

“We essentially help women create meaningful relationships that men already have access to by virtue of having been in the workplace for years and years,” Borges said. “Mentors … and sponsors and peers are all important for providing you with the skills and learning that you need to grow in your goals.”

“We have seen that women don’t tend to have those kinds of relationships,” she added.

According to a 2016 Women in the Workplace study, this checks out. Women reported fewer substantive interactions with senior leaders than their male counterparts. Both men and women, however, viewed mentorship from seniors as key to professional growth.

This study, which is a comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America, asked 132 companies to share their pipeline data and HR practices, and had 34,000 employees complete surveys that addressed attitudes on gender, job satisfaction, ambition and work-life issues. The results, which built off the 2015 study, showed that while companies’ commitment to gender diversity is higher than ever before, follow-through still lacks.

Women in the Workplace also found that for every 100 women who are promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted.  Furthermore, women occupy just 20 percent of “line roles,” which lead more directly to top executive positions. In 2015, 90 percent of new CEOS in the S&P 500 were promoted from line roles, according to the study.

Recognizing that mentoring plays a key role in the corporate pipelines, Everwise looked into the options women had for engaging in mentor programs, Borges said. She said that in the early stages of planning ways to improve mentor programs for women, they found that most of what was already out there were “one and done” programs, where women were taken to off-sight locations and given opportunities to network with peers and executives. The experiences made an impact, but there was no follow-up.

“With our technology, it’s a year-long journey,” she said, explaining how tech allowed for a long-term partnership. “Relationships are critical … [and] one of the strengths of our program is that you’re able to build meaningful relationships.”

EverwiseWomen’s online platform also includes a space for women to view and share content related to the skills they’d like to develop or improve. While content is initially curated based on the user’s declared focus areas, the virtual platform is able to curate future content based on feedback from different activities that a user engages in on the platform, she said. It’s not a “one size fits all” program.

Also part of the program are five in-person events that take place throughout the year. These events allow for face-to-face relationship building, skill development and networking, and they include a fireside chat session with female executives in the city, she said.

At first, EverwiseWomen assumed that for the program to be flexible, it should be a little unstructured, according to Borges. They gave guidelines for the peer groups and a date for a final check in, but ultimately, the team at Everwise realized it needed to have a higher degree of involvement in the groups’ interactions.

So they developed a peer group portal, which allows peers to connect with each other between in-person events, schedule meetings and access contact information of their peers. This addition to the program was rolled out for cohorts in May, she said.

Borges emphasized the value in establishing relationships, for both men and women, when it comes to career achievement.

“Social learning is the best kind of learning,” she said.

Image via Creative Commons