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Turmoil Doesn’t Crimp Women’s Programs at Wall Street Firms

Despite market conditions, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs are introducing new programs to recruit women who have left the workforce for extended periods.

September 16, 2011
Related Topics: Career Development, Future Workplace, Candidate Sourcing, Employee Career Development, Latest News
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During the past few years, a number of Wall Street firms have made strides in trying to recruit and retain women. But given the recent turn of events among financial firms there, many observers expect these initiatives to fall by the wayside.

Despite market conditions, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs are introducing new programs to recruit women who have left the workforce for extended periods.

“We still want to continue to recruit the best women we can,” said Subha Barry, managing director, global diversity and inclusion at Merrill Lynch. “When times are tough is when you continue to maintain your focus.”

On October 27, Merrill co-hosted its first program targeting women looking to re-enter the workforce. The New York-based financial services company held the Greater Returns Program with the Columbia Business School and the Center for Work Life Policy, a New York-based think tank.

The 2½-day event at Columbia featured sessions on refining negotiating skills and revamping résumés and included mock interviews so attendees could hone their skills, Barry said. Forty women were accepted to participate in the program. Merrill recruiters attended the event, and the firm hopes to place some of the participants, Barry said.
Merrill is planning a follow-up session in the spring focusing on its own employees, Barry said.

“We saw adding this piece as a way for us to differentiate our program,” Barry said, noting that it made sense to open the program to Merrill’s own employees. “This will allow us to identify their skill sets and passions and share with them some notion of what other areas within the company they could focus on.”

While the details of the “up-ramping” program have not been worked out, Barry thinks it will be similar to Greater Returns, in that employees will have to apply to participate.

“It will obviously be more financial services-oriented, since all of these women will be coming from within the business,” she said.

Similarly, Goldman Sachs piloted its first program targeting women looking to return to work. Goldman’s Returnship Program is an eight-week internship for women returning to work after an extended absence. The program, which began September 15, included 10 participants but may be expanded in the future, said Edie Hunt, COO of Goldman’s human capital division. The company hopes to place the women, but that will be based on performance and the requirements of the departments in which they worked, Hunt said.

Offering such programs is a key part of Goldman’s culture, Hunt said.
It remains to be seen whether diversity programs will continue to be a focus on Wall Street next year as budgets are slashed, observers say.

“I don’t think many firms will have the luxury of engaging the intelligentsia for these programs over the next couple of years,” said Janet Hanson, founder of 85 Broads, a network of Wall Street women. “Any industry that is in better shape may be able to attract the more diverse talent because they can.”

Merrill and Goldman say they will continue to invest in diversity programs, although the amount of spending remains to be seen. Goldman last week began laying off 10 percent of its workforce.

“We want to make sure the events we hold are commensurate with the economic environment we are in,” Hunt said.

Barry could not comment on next year’s diversity budget or how Bank of America’s September 15 acquisition of Merrill will affect its program.

The stakes are high for Wall Street firms, however, warned Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy.

“Women are leaving the workforce, but many are doing so
voluntarily,” she said. “If you have three kids sitting at home and all of a sudden your compensation is down 80 percent and you are working 100 hours, you are likely to rethink your situation if you can.”

—Jessica Marquez

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