Getting Women Back Into Leadership Roles

March 10th, 2017

executives-3-10-17.pngIt’s a common problem across the U.S.: Working women, who even today are disproportionately responsible for caring for children and elderly family members, take time away from work in the peak of their careers. Can companies increase the diversity of executive staff and boards by offering a way for these women to reenter the workforce? Through its Career Comeback program, Zurich, Switzerland-based UBS AG is recruiting professionals who are now ready to come back to work.

UBS, which has its U.S. headquarters in New York, sees diversity as a “competitive strength,” says Dana Ritzcovan, managing director and head of human resources for the Americas region. “Diverse teams better understand and relate to the needs of our clients, and an inclusive work environment attracts high quality people and helps engage them over the long term.”

In 2015, the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that companies with a greater level of gender diversity on the board and management team are 15 percent more likely to outperform less diverse companies. Yet U.S. companies struggle to include women in executive leadership roles, leading to a dearth of women filling seats in the boardroom. Women comprise 14 percent of board seats at banks above $1 billion in assets, according to Bank Director’s data on both public and private companies, despite making up roughly half of the total U.S. workforce.

Creating a mentorship program with the full support of senior management is one way to hire qualified, diverse talent. UBS uses the program to fill high-level roles across its organization—positions that Ritzcovan compares to a vice president or senior vice president position at a regional or community bank.

The program is selective: Candidates must have a minimum of five years of experience in the financial services industry, and seek to reenter the workforce after a minimum 2-year break in their career. “So many people just don’t know how to get back into the workplace,” says Ritzcovan. She says that the candidates’ backgrounds were impressive, but they lacked confidence “because they had been out of the workplace, and they didn’t know how to get it back.” The program is not limited to women, but the vast majority are female.

To give these women their groove back, UBS combines traditional classroom training—understanding the bank’s mission and strategy, as well as refreshing each candidate’s skills in their respective area of expertise—with a support system, providing networking opportunities for the group and assigning a senior-level mentor to each candidate.

Mentors can have a big impact. Women are less likely to drop out of the workforce or seek an opportunity with another company if they see opportunities further up the corporate ladder, says Nancy Sheppard, the CEO and founder of Women2Boards, a consulting firm that connects women with companies that need board members. The glass ceiling looks real when women see an all-male executive team.

Companies most often lose female workers six to 12 years out of college, which is a critical stage for employee growth, says Paula Loop, the leader for PwC's Governance Insights Center.

As a result of the program, UBS has gained loyal, hard-working employees who bring valuable skills to the company, says Ritzcovan. In 2017, UBS plans to accept 12 individuals in the U.S., up to 15 in the United Kingdom and as many as 20 in Switzerland. Last year, UBS accepted 27 candidates globally, and all but two have stayed with the company. Candidates in Switzerland are hired directly. In the U.S. candidates complete a five month paid internship, and in 2016, ten accepted permanent or contract positions at UBS.

The success of any diversity initiative, including the UBS mentorship program, requires buy-in at the top levels of the organization, which then should carry through culturally. “You need strong senior management that values this kind of a program in order to make it successful,” says Ritzcovan.

Sheppard recommends that banks make it a point to create goals to offer more opportunities for women. For example, one or two women should be considered when filling key positions, she says.

Hiring and promoting more women at the executive level could impact the percentage of women serving on boards. “When companies and boards are looking for new board members, they do focus a lot on their own networks,” says Loop. “Current directors may not know a lot of women in their networks.” Getting more women into executive roles could bridge that gap. “The more women that we can get into these executive roles, then those women can go onto boards—women will be able to see that the opportunities are endless,” says Loop.

emccormick

Emily McCormick is the Director of Research for Bank Director, an information resource for directors and officers of financial companies.You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ehmccormick or get connected on LinkedIn.