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Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Return to Work programme

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When at Bank of America Merrill Lynch decided to start a “return to work” programme in 2015, Simon Lucocq, regional head of technology and operations for Asia-Pacific, had a distinct goal – to attract more female talent into the technology sector.

“Finding and hiring experienced women in technology is particularly challenging as the pool can be limited, especially since we don’t just compete with banks for talent but also with technology companies,” he said. “There’s a war for female talent out there and the ones with creative solutions will win out.”

The bank has accordingly taken a different approach and works with NGOs and recruitment firms to identify more women who are looking to return to work after staying out of the workforce for an extended period of time, specifically 18 months or more.

“We also try to further broaden the talent pool by not limiting to candidates from a banking and finance background. We believe if they are the talent we want, we can bring them in and develop them,” Lucocq said.

The bank has invested heavily in talent development to ensure the people who are returning from work are able to adapt.  The new hires are given full support from management to help them develop the skills they need for their roles, to learn about the business and to understand the work environment.

Managers are in touch with them frequently to see how they are progressing and to provide necessary support. “We don’t throw them into the deep end. We understand these people have been out of the workforce for quite a while and need time to adjust,” Lucocq said.

It is natural for hiring managers to recruit people who are able to hit the ground running, but this concept had to change for the Return to Work programme to be effective.

The result is not only a more effective programme but an initiative that helps the bank meet its social responsibilities. After all, having a “return to work” programme is not only a strategy to fill talent gaps but is also the right thing to do. The bank takes pride in building an inclusive workplace where everybody can be comfortable being themselves.

In terms of the programme’s implementation, the first step was to educate hiring managers on the importance of hiring talent for the future.

“Everybody wants to fill openings with candidates that have the precise type of experience needed. We tell hiring managers you may not have the exact talent you want today, but that you will have it in the future [through the programme’s training scheme]”.

“From a cultural point of view, it is a big change for hiring managers. Given the right mentoring, people are able to learn and integrate with the organisation and become amazing performers.”

He recalled one woman who was placed in the business continuity sector – a business unit that helps organisations to operate in and overcome serious incidents or disasters.

The woman joined the bank two years ago with no experience at all in the field. But with the right training and mentoring from the bank, she successfully managed to run this part of the bank’s operations in Hong Kong and was offered a permanent position after two years as a contractor.

After enjoying success working with third parties to identify talent who are looking to return to work, the bank expanded the talent pool by introducing a staff referral programme in 2017. It will further expand the programme on International Women’s Day this year by looking at even more channels through which to source Return to Work candidates, most of whom tend to be women.

But that doesn’t mean that the programme is only open to women, Lucocq says: “We want to consider any and all experienced people that are looking to return to work. We also want to hire men who have been out of the workplace.”

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