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Been-there, Done-that Web Site Works for Women

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One way for women to learn what they need to know to get ahead is to find out all about it, firsthand, from female colleagues who have been there, done that.

That's just what female employees do at Bain & Co., a global business consulting firm based in Boston with 31 offices in 19 countries and 3,000 employees, about half of them women.

Bain has something else going for it: Its chairman is a woman, Orit Gadiesh; Christine Detrickis head of its global financial-services practice; Wendy Miller is in charge of global marketing, and Elizabeth D. Ramos is a partner and responsible for global human resources.

Against this nurturing background, three years ago women in the Dallas office asked Ramos to help them set up an internal Web site, available to all employees and focusing on women's issues. In 2003 the Women's Experience Center was up and ready to go, and it's still going strong.

"One of the beautiful things about the Web site is that it was grass-roots," said Ramos, who has a staff of 25. She says her task at Bains is "to think about the experience our employees are having here and how to improve it - and the Women's Experience Center is a great example of it."

Ramos, who has a bachelor's degree in international economics and an MBA, says that the women who suggested the on-line network "knew that the company had great women executives, but they rarely got to see them because they don't work in their office."

The Women's Experience Center was established to bridge that divide: It's a site for women at the top to share experiences about how they got there and a source of helpful tips.

"The head of the Dallas office, Matthew Meacham, called me about the `great' idea of a Web site and gave the women time to work on it," said Ramos, who came to the company in 1985 and has been in her present post since 2000. "The site is helpful because, while many men are great mentors of women, there's something special about sharing your experiences of the business world with other women."

That's just what Ramos and other female senior executives at the firm do under the site's heading of Profiles, which also has a link for women to contact their "mentors" directly. Another section is devoted to career issues; a third to work/life balance; and a final one on external resources posts recent publications and articles concerning women and careers.

The company doesn't track who uses the site or how many hits it gets daily from women and men. Exchanges are personal and private. "But we get great feedback, it's a great tool," said Ramos. "The content is for everyone but especially oriented to our consultants, many of whom are MBAs on partnership tracks, who often have to do a lot of traveling and have demanding schedules."

One subject frequently discussed is communication styles, especially differences in those of women and men. Another hot topic is work/life balance, particularly concerns about two-career couples, balancing work and motherhood, and finding time for a social life for hard-working singles.

"We find the personal connections are really important, so we discussed those subjects at a women's leadership summit, which we held to help cement and pull things together," said Ramos. "It's fascinating, the different things women have to say."

The executive is an important resource for other women in the company. She and her husband, Fidel, a manufacturer, have four children, ages 5 to 16. Ramos has had a flexible schedule since her children were born and is an expert on nursing while traveling. She brought her first child with her on business trips so she could continue nursing. Since then she has become an "expert" on portable pumps, battery packs, refrigeration and support systems.

The Women's Experience Center also helps retain excellent employees.

"It's hard to say how turnover has been affected, but the center has increased a feeling of community, which is an important part of retention" Ramos said. "It's important to be able just to reach out and talk to someone who's done it.


(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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