A holistic approach to career development

Women’s career development is not just about networking and leadership programmes. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s approach is holistic, focusing not just on recruiting a more diverse workforce and supporting them to progress up the organisation, but it also recognises that many women take career breaks after having children and represent a talent pool which has been overlooked.

Career Progression


The bank pioneered one of the first programmes for experienced professionals – mainly women – who have taken a career break and want to get back to work.

The company’s progress in this area as well as its ongoing commitment to develop its female talent won it the 2015 workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Award for Career Progression.

BofAML’s Returning Talent programme is now moving into its fifth year; to date just under 200 people have taken part. Many have gone on to get jobs at BofAML as well as at other companies.

The programme’s aim is to help returners get back into professional jobs in financial services – not just banking. “It’s not just about us. We feel deeply about helping returners get back to work wherever that is,” says Neeha Khurana, ‎International Talent Executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Our focus is on building confidence and networking.”

BofAML doesn’t have detailed individual follow-up data for all those who have taken part because their original focus was not on the number of people placed but on helping people to reconnect to the world of work. However, Neeha says they know that over half of those who took part in last year’s programme have secured a job. Five of those who took part in the 2014 programme joined BofAML.

Since it started, the structure of the programme has changed slightly. It is now done in two parts commencing with a conference covering issues like reconnecting with skills, balancing work and family life and executive coaching. Participants are then funnelled down to a smaller group who are looking to return to the financial services sector as soon as possible. The timing has also changed so that it is in line with BofAML’s recruitment cycle.

Positive feedback

Neeha says there has been a lot of positive feedback over the years about the Returning Talent programme, which was one of the first initiatives to focus on returners in the UK. “A lot of organisations now recognise the wealth of skills offered by returners.

We regularly receive questions from organisations, asking how we set up Returning Talent and how we determine its success. We point to the sheer numbers of people who have connected personally,” she says.

Another measure of its success is the level of senior leadership engagement and sponsorship of the programme. “It’s great that our senior leadership is actively involved in the programme and provides advice to participants.

This level of engagement has become part of how we do things at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and we are never short of volunteers. There is more focus now on placing programme participants in roles with us, but when we started it was about a change of culture and encouraging people to recognise the amount of talent that is out there,” says Neeha.

BofAML also provides support for parents returning to work after shorter parental leave. This includes workshops and coaching for both the employee going on leave and their manager.

There is a returners’ workshop, a dads webinar and coaching sessions to help with transitioning back into the workplace 90-100 days post-leave. In addition, returners are linked to a Learning & Leadership Development partner to ensure the transition back to work is as smooth as possible and that their career development is not adversely affected by their time out of the workplace.

The bank also offers a Maternity Buddy Scheme to support women returning from maternity leave and has an employee-run Parent and Carers’ Network which explores key issues for working parents, including flexible working.

Diversity champions

Diversity is a key focus for BofAML and women’s representation at all levels of the firm is a vital part of this. Neeha’s team works closely with every area of the business to ensure all employees understand the strategic direction of the bank, the kind of diverse culture it is trying to build and the need to ensure career development of all staff from recruitment through to management.

This starts with its recruitment process which has been reviewed by an independent third party, confirming there is no adverse impact on gender.

BofAML has business line champions who promote diversity at recruitment events and work closely with the bank’s recruitment partners to ensure a diverse range of candidates are put forward for job opportunities. “It’s an absolute partnership,” says Neeha.

All senior managers, recruiters and suppliers take part in unconscious bias training. For hiring managers there are guidelines and workshops available on each step of the recruitment process, allowing managers to challenge their bias throughout the hiring process. In addition a library of reference materials have been created for both managers and recruiters and changes have been made to the way role profiles are put together.

For example, the bank has just held a pilot workshop on disability awareness focusing on issues such as language use. “There’s a heavy focus on raising awareness,” says Neeha. Unconscious bias training began in 2013 and by 2014 it was mandated for all senior posts.

It has now progressed down to all hiring managers and suppliers. “Our partners know diversity is important to us and that we are committed to putting our values into action,” says Neeha.

Leadership development

To develop promising talent, the bank also runs a variety of programmes which were attended by over 1,000 women between 2014 and 2015. These include its Accelerated Development Programme (ADP), a personal, year-long approach, which provides one-on-one coaching from outside experts, formal learning and exposure to BofAML senior and industry thought leaders.

The bank also has an Emerging Leaders Programme (ELP) which was created for promising mid-level female managers. It provides deep assessments, individual feedback and one-on-one coaching from experienced advisers. Neeha says the ADP and ELP are “flagship programmes to bring talent together from across the globe”.

For those higher up the career ladder, BofAML’s Leader Development Forum helps senior executives build critical leadership skills and develop connections with their peers.

For senior female leaders there is also the Global Women’s Conference which was first convened in New York in October 2014. It brought together over 300 senior female leaders from all lines of business and locations and representatives from key markets.

Neeha says the bank is considering future conferences focused on women at middle management level so they can make those connections earlier in their career. Another possible development is regional women’s conferences in recognition of the need to make connections locally.

Female employees can also participate in global diversity and inclusion employee networks or join groups dedicated to the interests of women, such as LEAD (Leadership, Education, Advocacy & Development) which promotes professional interactions that aim to attract, develop, advance and retain females. It currently provides opportunities for education, mentoring and community involvement to over 22,000 members in over 30 chapters worldwide.

Other networks include Women in Technology & Operations which has over 3,000 members and focuses on early pipeline development for young women and ongoing professional development.

Neeha says: “It’s important to provide support and encourage female talent to join networks as these often open doors to new opportunities and help them to make connections with the right people.”

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