Coaching spurs success for Corning women in Finance
To accelerate the progress of women to Finance leadership roles, Corning deploys a powerful force.
While preparing for her U.S. driver’s test, Chris Ding turned to a familiar face: her Women Leaders in Finance (WLIF) program coach, Kathleen Good. From the DMV to the halls of Corning’s corporate headquarters, Kathleen supported Chris, a Shanghai native, professionally – and personally – from 2014 to 2016, which included her move to Corning, New York, for her expatriate assignment.
“She was my go-to person whenever I needed help,” recalls Chris, finance senior manager for Corning China and Corning International Operations.
Through WLIF, Corning Finance provides structured coaching and seminars to support women starting their leadership journeys. Since inception, 150 women have participated in the program, and Corning now has an additional 50 women in senior finance leadership roles globally.
“The WLIF program shows what’s possible when an organization devotes time, resources, and sustained effort to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives,” says Patty Wahba, finance division vice president and the program’s executive sponsor. “By creating an environment where we all participate in each other’s growth every day, we demonstrate how to create positive and lasting change."
The need for WLIF was clear. In the finance industry, men and women begin their careers at parity. But most senior roles remain largely dominated by men. This leads to fewer female role models and mentors. Corning decided to directly confront the issue, establishing WLIF in 2009.
Today WLIF’s impact pays compounding interest. Chris, for example, is now extending her support to Ally Lee, finance controller for Corning’s Gorilla® Glass business in Taipei, Taiwan, as Ally navigates a new career milestone – stepping into management.
“Chris has given me a lot of advice on leadership and how to manage a changing environment,” says Ally, noting how Chris shared her knowledge about modeling for financial simulations, navigating potential snags during internal audits, and building strong relationships through empathy.
Chris and Ally’s long-distance collaboration isn’t unusual.
Building bridges across Corning’s businesses and regions is one of the most rewarding parts of being a coach in the WLIF program, says Ulrike Bertinchamp, general manager and finance director for Corning’s legal entity in Germany. “We are an organization that depends on a personal network,” Ulrike explains. "If you don’t have a network, you can be lost. This program is a vehicle for crossing the borders of the organization.”
With 36 years at Corning, Ulrike taught her mentee Lilla Hollo, Corning Shared Services customer relationship manager in the Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA) region, how to navigate a large, matrixed, international organization after working for a smaller company.
The strong personal connection they’ve built has been equally valuable. “From the very beginning we’ve had an authentic and honest relationship,” says Lilla.
Donna Arnold, financial planning and analysis senior manager for Corning Life Sciences in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, beams with pride when discussing her mentee Shelby Bierwiler’s promotion to assistant plant controller for Corning Environment Technology’s manufacturing facility in Erwin, New York. “It takes a lot of courage to put yourself in the right place at the right time, while respecting your colleagues,” Donna says. “She makes smart choices and I admire that in her.”
Shelby’s experience is part of an encouraging trend. Among the current WLIF class, which began in January 2021, almost 20% of the women have already been promoted and nearly 75% of participants have made their next career move, preparing them to start mentoring and further the momentum.
“Even right now, I do a lot of coaching off to the side with my direct report and new hires,” says Shelby. “I want to continue that legacy of coaching and being coached, because you do gain a lot both ways.”