This global bank is one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organisations. Serving around 38 million customers in 67 countries and territories in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, North America and Latin America.


The Indian arm of this Bank was keen to address the relatively low female representation within its most senior roles. Whilst some progress had been made in recent years, a significant boost was required in order to achieve specific targets the Bank had set for itself. While a range of developmental interventions were already in place, there was a need to focus on ‘Band 4’ women leaders in the Bank and provide opportunities for self-exploration and discovery in a way that prepared them for future leadership. There was also a need to benchmark these ‘Band 4’ women leaders against women leaders at ‘Band 3’ across the Bank, male leaders across the Bank and leaders at senior levels in the Financial Services industry.

The Bank identified YSC as a partner in this journey, owing to our awareness of the key psychological drivers and levers of success needed to develop and help women leaders grow. Additionally the strong benchmarks we offered, the deep rooted understanding we had about the Bank’s values and culture and the significant work we had done in the field of women leadership (in the UK, India, Australia and New York), made us valuable partners.


Our starting frame for this intervention was to look at this as a ‘Talent’ issue that the Bank faced, not just a Diversity issue. YSC partnered with the Bank to design a programme called ‘Ascend’. This was targeted at 30 women leaders a level below the target level, and positioned as a career development intervention for all women leaders at this band. The objective was to enable the women leaders to take an informed, objective look at future growth aspirations as well as support them in putting together a targeted development plan against a stated career aspiration. We hoped:

  • To help women leaders gain deeper understanding of the levers of success at current and next levels.
  • To help them examine and question the mental models and beliefs they had about senior leadership roles and the journey it takes to get there.
  • To support them with conceptual models and behavioural change interventions.

The Programme was broken into three phases…

Phase 1: Discovery 

This phase was focused on helping the women leaders identify their uniqueness through a profiling session, followed by feedback and action planning. Common group coaching and development themes were identified at the end of this phase, one critical theme being for the cohort to move from loyal, compliant, collaborative and operationally excellent managers, to leaders who showed up in the organisation in a confident and strategic manner, able to influence and navigate the system through change. Whilst this aligned with the findings we had seen through our own research into women leaders, an additional question we asked the client was “What is it about the culture that’s shaping the women leaders in this manner?” This allowed us to take a more systemic approach in the development journey of this cohort. Line Managers and HR were included in the journey, guiding the women leaders in their development planning.

Phase 2: Development Journey focusing on adaptive shifts 

This phase was targeted to helping the women leaders explore their full potential through a combination of group workshops and peer coaching support. Workshops were designed around the common development themes identified for the cohort, namely: clarifying their leadership purpose; becoming better influencers; and developing breakthrough and transformational thinking. Additionally the women were divided into peer coaching cohorts of 4 members, to support each other through the development journey and help develop their industry perspective and networking skills. This ensured that we provided professional networking opportunities for the women and helped create a strong support system with other women leaders from different businesses and functions.

Our research led us to believe that women leaders tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored. Hence, each cohort was attached with an EXCO member who became their sponsor, ensuring we exposed the women to senior women leaders across industries in the workshops, so they could hear from successful role models and take valuable lessons for their own development. The women were also given ‘learning expeditions’ as projects to work on in their cohort under the guidance of the sponsor. This allowed the sponsors to understand the women and their leadership styles better and made it easy for them to open their own networks that benefited the women in their journey. YSC facilitated the coaching conversations, helping to make these conversations constructive and challenging each other’s assumptions at the same time.

Phase 3: Career Management and Conversations

This phase was focused on equipping women leaders with skills and tools to manage their careers by being clear about their aspirations, reaching out to broader stakeholders, identifying and working with career sponsors and mentors and creating broader visibility for themselves in the system. YSC ran a career framing workshop that allowed the participants to be clear on where they were in their career journey, where they wanted to go and what it would take for them to get there. A few EXCO sponsors were also invited to share their career journeys and this served as a role modelling conversation for participants. The journey ended with a conversation with Line Managers to share the progress they had made over the past year and the new aspirations they had for their careers.

Unconscious Bias

Mid-way through the above initiative, we started to focus on unconscious bias and assumptions, because of themes emerging through peer coaching. There was a keenness to bring male colleagues into the conversation, which led to running unconscious bias sessions with the EXCO members and Line Managers of the women leaders in the cohort. The CEO of the organisation role-modelled a willingness to question his own biases. These sessions started some great dialogues between the men and women leaders and unearthed underlying assumptions in the system around women in leadership roles.


The target when we started this programme was to have five women from this cohort be ‘promotion ready’ by the end of the programme. There have been seven promotions from this cohort to date and almost 70% of the remainder have moved laterally to roles that are challenging and stretching, including to new functions, businesses and geographies. Women have been seen to be making behavioural shifts in relation to their own development and the sponsors have played a key role in opening their networks to women and rallying for their success in the organisation.

There is increased buy-in from senior leaders to take on mentoring and career sponsorship roles for the women. Also the women leaders now understand their own thinking and mental models that can be holding them back and are looking forward to getting tools and skills to break through and crack the code for success.

Next Steps

  • A second cohort of women at the same level will go through a similar programme in Q2 next year.
  • Conversations have begun in relation to ‘Bands 1 and 2’, to focus on early talent.
  • Bring the male colleagues into the conversation, i.e. focusing on gender intelligent talent more broadly, and therefore initiatives for both men and women.
  • Across the board, run unconscious bias sessions as a way to sensitise people managers and build their ability to develop and retain women leaders in the organisation.

Client Feedback

“YSC has worked as an extension of our own team to ensure ‘Ascend’ was a thumping success. The research base, passion and benchmarks that YSC brought to this issue made them a credible partner. In addition, the flexibility they showed in working with us in an emergent manner, staying alive to feedback we were receiving through the process, and pushing themselves and us to be cutting edge in what we were doing for our talent, made this initiative a huge success for the Bank” – Vijaya Kumar, LTROD Head