Women urged to make comeback
Investment bank's programme encourages staff who have gone on maternity leave to return to the ranks
A SHRINKING TALENT pool is forcing companies in the financial services sector to look at new ways to attract and retain staff, including the re-engagement of women after maternity leave.
Lehman Brothers, a leading financial services provider, launched its Encore programme in 2005 with the aim of re-engaging professional women who wished to return to the workforce after taking time off to have children, care for elderly family members or address other life responsibilities.
The programme was the result of a study commissioned by Lehman Brothers and several other firms. Findings suggested that nearly 37 per cent of women with advanced academic qualifications were leaving their jobs at some point in their career, and 93 per cent wanted to return within two to three years.
'The sobering news was that less then half of them really succeeded and there was a huge discount to their earning capacity,' said Anne Erni, managing director and chief diversity officer at Lehman Brothers.
The initiative is a success. Last year, 89 per cent of women returned after maternity leave, compared with 42 per cent in 2002. Ms Erni attributed the programme's success to many factors, including women's ability to customise their return, managers reaching out to and staying in touch with women during their maternity leave, and the introduction of flexible work arrangements (FWA).
Research showed that most women wanted some flexibility when they decided to re-engage. Therefore, the company has made a commitment to building a globally flexible work culture. The system comprises a set of transparent formal policies posted on the internet, an online application system and a full-time person to act as a counsellor.
'Last year, a year after we launched FWA, 18 per cent of our employees worked flexibly, as against 14 per cent in 2005,' Ms Erni said.
The Encore programme is part of a broader strategy Lehman Brothers embarked on 3? years ago that embedded the notion of diversity and inclusion in the way it operates. At the operational level, it means that all direct divisions, including investment banking, equities and fixed income, must write and be accountable for diversity plans that are evaluated every year. The company believes that diversity leads to innovation.
'By diversity we mean diversity of thought and perspective. We produce ideas and financial solutions. When you have a diversity of thought and perspective sitting around the table, often you will come up with a better product,' Ms Erni said.
As chief diversity officer, Ms Erni, a working mother herself, is responsible for creating a vision for the organisation and engaging the entire team around executing that vision.
'Diversity differs from region to region. While in the United States it means gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnic diversity, in Britain there is more focus on the multicultural and gay-lesbian aspects. In Asia, it is about building a locally relevant workforce and attracting local nationalities,' she said.
Diversity plans are implemented through a department comprising a global team of 15, divisional diversity councils accountable for helping the division execute their inclusion plans, and six global employee networks.
Women's Initiative Leading Lehman (WILL), launched in 2002, was the first of these networks. It brings together women from different managerial levels to engage in conversation and be inspired in their careers.
'As there are many senior MBA women who are driving the growth in Hong Kong and China, there is an emerging demand for women's coverage,' Ms Erni said.
WILL volunteers visit universities, meet young women on campus and encourage them to go into banking and financial services.
'Networks create a safe environment,' Ms Erni said.
The company's gay and lesbian network, which has recently been extended to Hong Kong, encourages employees to be open about their sexual orientation.
At recent recruiting events in Tokyo and Hong Kong, a senior manager addressed gay students and invited them to apply to Lehman Brothers.
'You cannot drive diversity and inclusion into a culture unless you have genuine, heartfelt support from the top,' Ms Erni said.
Back in the fold
Encore is an initiative to re-engage women in the workforce
Flexible work arrangements allow staff to work when it suits them best
Six global employee networks create a safe environment
Diversity plans are executed through a diversity department and divisional councils
The company encourages greater representation of women in the financial sector