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Janine Milne

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Best practice: Staying mum at Merrill Lynch


Bank of America Merrill Lynch is spearheading an innovative campaign to help stay-at-home mothers and carers get back into the workplace.

The ‘Returning Talent’ programme offers practical advice to people hoping to re-enter the workplace after three or more years caring for their family. It is aiming to attract middle to senior-ranking professionals from finance, law or other professional services with transferable skills such as project management.
“We’re targeting people who’ve been away from work for three or more years, as we believe that those who’ve taken one or two years out still have the networks and colleagues they can contact, but by the third year those networks and also their confidence may be severely impacted,” explains Michelle Fullerton, head of diversity and inclusion for Europe and emerging markets at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
“I also figured it would be easier for people to get back in at an entry-level but far more difficult for more senior professionals who we are targeting through this programme.”
The three-day programme (run during child-friendly hours) offers a range of advice designed to give participants – mainly mothers – practical skills as well as build their confidence.
It offers practical advice on things like writing CVs and interview technique, how to network using LinkedIn and other sites and how to approach employers.
A panel of bank executives, including a single mother, will also talk about how they balance their work and home responsibilities. 
Participants will also be updated on IT and changes in the industry which has moved on considerably in the last five years, though as Fullerton points out: “In our industry, so much has changed that being away for any time matters less than it used to, but this gives them a headstart on the legal and regulation changes that have happened.”
Just as important as the practical advice, the programme helps to build people’s confidence in their abilities. Fullerton says that you can really see a change in attitude by the end of the three days.
“On day one they come in and say: ‘I’m a mum and that’s the most important thing for me; I’d like a career but it has to work round my children’. By day three, they are saying: ‘I’m a talented career professional who happens to be a mother and I need an employer who can help me make that work’.”
This is the second time the investment bank has run this scheme and the response has been tremendous. Last year, there were more than 100 applicants for the 20 places and Fullerton expects even higher numbers to apply this year. 
Half of the 21 women who attended the programme last summer have found jobs and one has joined the bank. Many of the applications last year came from the legal profession rather than banking. “We received a lot came from lawyers who’d worked for the big firms and found it incredibly tough to break back in,” says Fullerton.
Although numbers are restricted, Fullerton gives personal feedback to everyone who applies and tries to keep in touch with many of them.
Applications for ‘Returning Talent’ close on 22 February and the workshops will take place on 11, 14 and 21 March at the bank’s Canary Wharf offices.

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