Rethinking the return
An August 2021 Deloitte Economics Spotlight revealed US job openings across industries are at an all-time high.8 To retain their workforces, FSIs should diversify traditional talent pools for recruitment and consider deploying alternative hiring programs, work locations, and workforce support systems while continuing to pursue gender equity goals.
Designing hybrid work models to benefit women
Returning to pre-pandemic work environments appears to be on the far horizon for many organizations. For some, where and how we work will change permanently. When crafting back-to-work strategies, many organizations are now favoring a hybrid work model– one that allows for flexibility in work hours and workplace. Most importantly, hybrid work models can demonstrate that an organization understands, is committed to, and supports its people’s professional and personal needs.
A recent global survey by Catalyst compared employees who have flexible work options—flexible locations, work from home options, or distributed teams—to those who don’t. Those with flexible options were 93% more likely to report feeling included, 75% more likely to report being engaged, 68% more likely to report high organizational commitment, and 63% more likely to report being innovative. And for women with child care responsibilities, those who were offered flexible work options were 32% lesslikely to leave their current jobs.9
However, for many women returning to an office either full-time or via a hybrid model, child care still remains a concern. Availability of child care options have decreased due to pandemic-related closures and costs are reportedly higher than prepandemic, in part because there are fewer providers.10 In designing hybrid work models, institutions should consider employees who are primary caregivers. In some cases, employee well-being can be improved by limiting early morning or late afternoon meetings or implementing a no-meeting day, which would allow for more flexibility and time for informal connections.11 They can also designate set days for remote work and in-office days, which can help employees schedule their time and child care arrangements.12
Financial firm leaders need to be aware of—and mitigate against—the potential disadvantages a hybrid model could elicit for women and their opportunities to advance. Having colleagues, clients, and leaders together in-person enables visibility and informal connections; both are important elements for career progression.13 Gender disparity could worsen if women continue to work from home while men, particularly those without child care responsibilities, return to the office. It is particularly important for women employees to experience leadership examples in real life in the form of “If I can see it, I can be it.” A hybrid model, therefore, should include organizations and leaders, especially women leaders, to make a commitment and focused effort to see and be seen.
Leaders should also clearly communicate expectations and parameters within new hybrid models. Employees need to know that remote work arrangements do not equate to longer hours or lead to career path disadvantages.14 Organizations that offer hybrid work arrangements should provide opportunities for those working remotely to stay connected to ensure they don’t feel left out or begin to question their purpose within the organization.
Strategies for retaining and recruiting women leaders
Given the current robust job market, financial services firms may face challenges in their efforts to maintain continuity of operations across the workforce. What can FSIs do to support and retain senior women leaders and help build a diverse pipeline of future leaders?
A recent survey shows 70% of women in leadership are managing more professional responsibilities since the pandemic began.15 Right now, women tend to face increased responsibilities at work and at home, higher stress levels, and, often, a lack of connectedness that remote working can elicit. When faced with these challenges, the value of sponsorship, mentorship, and allyship programs has likely never been greater. Efforts like these can help women forge important connections, which can alleviate some of these challenges.
According to a recent Deloitte Women @ Work global study, women who feel their employer supports their efforts to balance work with other commitments and who are satisfied with their current career progression, report higher levels of mental well-being, job satisfaction, motivation, and productivity. More also plan to stay with their employer longer compared with women who do not feel the same level of confidence, support, and satisfaction in these areas.16
These findings indicate that companies should continue to invest in efforts, by creating new programs and supporting existing channels, that connect women leaders to networks that support and advocate for them.
Recruitment steps that can build gender diversity
Recruiting to achieve greater gender diversity is not a passive exercise or strategy. Leaders should be committed to achieving a gender-balanced slate of candidates. At an organizational level, they should work to identify and eradicate systemic bias in traditional recruiting practices. They should be aware that a one-size-fits-all approach may miss the mark at reaching campus hires and early-career recruits. Firms can leverage technology to analyze the full set of employee data to ensure women, especially non-white women, are not being overlooked.
Further, leaders should actively groom women for senior leadership roles. In hybrid work environments, leaders may need to take extra steps or revise existing practices to achieve results. Greater gender diversity at all levels can increase firms’ ability to promote internally. As we outlined in Diversifying the path to CEO in financial services, widening the lens by considering additional qualifications and roles during succession planning may accelerate diversity efforts.17 Organizations that adopt these kinds of deliberate initiatives to promote women signal to all ranks that gender diversity is an important part of their diversity strategy.
Restart programs can bring back more women
In our original report, we highlighted the need for restart programs—experienced hire programs focused on workers resuming their careers after taking an extended break—which were gaining traction prepandemic and continue to grow in numbers and scope.18 Nearly one-third of the Fortune 50 now have a restart program.19 Workforce reentry programs can be a win-win, especially because more than one-half of millennials—57% of men and 74% of women, according to ManpowerGroup—anticipate pausing their careers at some point.20 With an estimated 43% of women leaving their jobs after having a child,firms should consider how to tap into this wealth of talent when they are ready to restart their careers and return to work.21 While restart programs are typically structured for mid-career candidates, the widening pipeline gap should serve as a call to action for firm leaders to develop or enhance programs for senior women professionals as well.
Institutions that seek to initiate, expand, or reimagine an existing reentry program can partner with associations and firms to find talented candidates. iRelaunch22, a career reentry firm, helps match employers with reentering job candidates. The Mom Project23 helps employers identify reentry candidates and broaden their recruitment pool, while helping women stay engaged in the workforce by facilitating connections with potential employers through every stage of their careers.
Whether expanding existing programs or developing new ones, financial services leaders should regard these programs as a crucial way to build a stronger pipeline of women professionals. Having robust restart programs also helps convey the idea that career experience remains valuable and firms’ investment in talent earlier on in the career path can reap future rewards.
The COVID-19 pandemic has offered financial services firm leaders an opportunity to radically rethink the workplace. But to drive greater opportunities for women leaders and move the needle toward gender equity, firms should take intentional, data-driven, results-oriented actions while considering and eradicating the systemic biases that have propagated the disparities in gender equity we see today. DEI initiatives that were in place and gaining traction prepandemic may have helped employees overcome pandemic-related challenges. But as we acclimate to a work life that requires resiliency and flexibility, prioritizing workforce well-being and implementing bold gender equity strategies can be a long-term differentiator.
In the public sector, women leaders across the globe drew attention for how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic. One report categorized women’s leadership style as “more collective than individual, more collaborative than competitive, and more coaching than commanding.”24 A recent global study revealed that female CEOs exhibited similar characteristics and focused on accountability, adaptability, empathy, and diversity during the crisis.25 As financial firms prioritize human capital, purpose-driven finance, and ecosystem partnerships, these skills are becoming more relevant than ever. Financial services leaders, therefore, need to be deliberate about their goals and efforts to position women at the helm.
Let’s not waste our opportunity to reach higher.