From the April 2009 issue of Wealth Manager Web • Subscribe!

Attracting and Retaining Women: A 21st Century Challenge

Flexible work arrangements," "on-ramping and relaunching" and a "nonlinear career path" have entered the lexicon of the present day workplace. But these descriptors are more than words. They represent an increasing and necessary trend at financial services firms to identify and structure innovative ways for employees to successfully traverse work and personal commitments. Firms that want to succeed in the contest for talent must adopt human resource strategies that will enable them to recruit and retain people at all stages of their working lives. This isn't just about diversity planning or positive public relations. Rooted in education and population demographics and wealth management trends, there's also a compelling business case to be made.

It's well documented that women are underrepresented in professional roles in the financial planning industry. According to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, of a total 58,945 CFP certificants as of Feb. 28, just 13,760 are women. (Although 68 respondents did not indicate gender, the overall percentage, about 25%, remains virtually unchanged.)

However, women comprise more than half the U.S. population and hold 49.1% of the nation's jobs, according to a February New York Times article headlined "As Layoffs Surge--Women May Surpass Men." Another Times article, published in July 2006 ("At Colleges Women are Leaving Men in the Dust"), noted that women represent 58% of the college population.

By 2010, it is anticipated that women will control 60% of this country's wealth, according to Ken Dychtwald, author of Workforce Crisis: How to Beat the Coming Shortage of Skills and Talent (Harvard Business Press, 2006.) The workplace should mirror the population it intends to serve--especially in a client service business. In discussing her company's commitment to recruiting and retaining women, Lisa Cregan, a managing director at UBS Wealth Management, says, "If we do not have adequate representation of women as financial advisors in the workforce to reflect the diversity of the clients we seek to serve, we will not be competitive in developing our business...attracting and retaining women in global wealth management is a business, not a gender issue." Wealth management firms must consider initiatives to increase the number of women in their professional ranks, ensuring the best mix of wealth managers to address client needs.

In recent years, readily available PC and communications technologies have allowed people to work from almost anywhere. Younger workers demand more from employers in terms of work-life balance. A new labor pool of professionals has emerged: Mature women who want to return to the labor market (many professionals who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s left the workplace to raise families). The convergence of these forces has inspired financial services firms in general--and wealth management entities in particular --to respond with new or expanded flexible work practices, training opportunities and relaunching and recruiting initiatives.

Enlarging the Talent Pool

In 2004, The Center for Work Life Policy, founded by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Off-Ramps and On-Ramps--Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success (Harvard Business School Press, 2007), initiated a multi-year private sector task force called "The Hidden Brain Drain: Women and Minorities as Unrealized Assets." The task force commissioned a survey of women defined as "highly qualified"--meaning they possess a professional or graduate degree or are honors graduates of an undergraduate program. The survey looked at why women leave the workforce, their attitudes about re-entering, and what they may encounter in their attempt to relaunch a career.
Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce co-authored an article for The Harvard Business Review in March 2005 based on the survey results. They described the survey data as having "created a more comprehensive and nuanced portrait of women's career paths." They wrote that "many women take an off-ramp at some point in their career highway. Nearly four-in-ten highly qualified women report that they have left work voluntarily at some point in their careers. Among women who have children, this statistic rises to 43%...but most highly qualified women who are currently off-ramped (93%) want to return to their careers."

According to Vivian Rabin, co-founding partner of iRelaunch (www.iRelaunch.com) and author of Back On the Career Track (Hachette Book Group, 2007), "Despite the current economic difficulties firms are still realizing on-rampers are an excellent source of talent for the wealth management industry--especially in the role of financial advisor. Women looking to return to the workforce usually have extensive community networks, insight into how to successfully build relationships, and a great deal of maturity in dealing with different types of people." They are often willing to consider part-time or flexible work arrangements, allowing employers to think creatively about how to structure work. Their maturity and high emotional intelligence make them attractive candidates to relaunch careers in an advisory role.

A Case in Point

Jennifer Heckler forged an on-ramping path back into the world of wealth management. Her story is proof positive that success is even sweeter the second time around. In the early years of her career, Heckler, a vice president and investment relationship manager at Northern Trust Global Investments, built an impressive resume with experience working as an institutional bond trader in Europe and Asia. When her husband's career took them back to the U.S. to run a family business in Detroit, she landed a position as a portfolio manager in the Corporate Cash and Pension Group at The Ford Motor Company.

After several fulfilling years at Ford, Heckler decided to take a voluntary break so she could dedicate more time to her family and contribute to her community. Over the following years, she maintained her interest in finance and the capital markets as a consultant and private investor. She also became involved in several not-for-profit organizations, building a formidable community network. During the course of her volunteer work, Heckler befriended a neighbor who was working at Northern Trust and was very positive about her career there, claiming the company enabled her to continue working while maintaining a realistic work-family balance. Intrigued, Heckler networked her way into Northern Trust for an informational interview. In the ensuing months, she had conversations with people at Northern Trust, and in August 2007 was hired as an investment advisor.

Reflecting on the relaunching of her career, Heckler says: "Northern Trust expected there would be a learning curve, but they understood this and supported me throughout. They gave me lots of opportunities for finding mentors at the firm and to access product professionals. It was as if the whole company made themselves available to meet with me. The culture really encourages taking advantage of internal networking--I cannot say enough about how positive Northern Trust has made the experience of returning to work."

Northern Trust takes very seriously maintaining family-friendly policies, says Cathy Raia, second vice president at Northern Trust in Chicago. "By offering family-friendly programs and career development/leadership programs, our employees can more easily attend to their personal lives and individual career goals, thus remaining more focused and committed at work." The company has regularly placed on Working Mother magazine's list of "100 Best Companies" for working mothers.

Flexible Work Arrangements

Economic conditions are proving difficult for many businesses. One hard-hit area is employment and how to handle staffing. But turbulent times can lead to opportunities for a firm to deploy tools and strategies that will lead to increased employee loyalty and a culture of flexibility.
According to "Flex-It: Making Workplace Flexibility Work," a policy paper published in January by the consulting firm On-Ramps (www.on-ramps.com): "In tough times, when hiring permanent employees is not an option, flexibility can bring some of the best talent to the table to fill in the gaps." Today men and women are looking for ways to make their commitment to an employer and their families work. A 2004 study by the Families and Work Institute found that 67% of employees at organizations with high levels of flexibility reported strong job satisfaction, compared with 23% at companies with low levels of flexibility. High job satisfaction ensures that employees have a strong commitment and will work with management to prevail in tough times.

Raising the Bar--Higher.

Here's how to transform typical practices into a culture of flexibility.

Common

Best

Make a unique solution for each case

Create clear, consistent guidelines and refine as you go

Treat flexible programs as employee assistance programs

Build a culture of flexibility

Trust your managers to do a good job

Give your managers what they need

Use Blackberry to address remote needs

Create robust, seamless technological support

Design flexible programs based on external input/experts

Listen to your people

Source: Flex It: Making Workplace Flexibility Work--On-Ramps, January 2009.

The most successful flexibility programs are clearly defined by specific initiatives that allow employees to access policies leading to flexible work arrangements, and by how management approaches facilitating these arrangements. According to Sara Grayson, a founding partner of On-Ramps, creating a successful culture of flexibility requires two steps: Providing clear definition as to what flexible work arrangements are available and how to deploy them, and providing front line managers training in how to work with their people to take advantage of these policies.

Robin J. Scheman (rjscheman@aol.com) is a consultant to Wall Street firms about hiring, training and career paths.

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