Thursday 20 July 2017

Returner Employer Q&A - Stephanie Marshall, Fidelity International

Julianne from Women Returners interviews Stephanie Marshall, Fidelity International UK & Ireland Talent Acquisition Lead and Programme Manager on Fidelity New Horizons Returner Programme. 

Q. What was Fidelity’s motivation for setting up the New Horizons programme?
A. There are a couple of motivators. We saw the huge value and business benefit that a company like Fidelity could get from a returner programme. I also felt quite passionately about it from a personal point of view.  I have been a return to work mother, and been in a position where I’ve been out of work myself and looking to make a slight career change.  It was very difficult for me to break back into the sector, until I approached an old client of mine who was willing to help me.

Q. What do you see as the business benefits?
A. There are several big business benefits. Firstly, to improve gender diversity. Financial Services can sometimes have a reputation of being a male-dominated environment. We chose the technology area as a pilot for our returnship programme, because sometimes we find it challenging to recruit women into those roles. Fidelity International has signed up to the Women in Finance Charter, which is a UK Government initiative to encourage more companies to report on their gender balance at a senior level. The returner programme is one of the initiatives that will help us reach our goals.
From a more specific recruitment perspective, Fidelity International has some offices outside of London, and it can sometimes be a challenge to find candidates with niche skills that are local to us. However, we've found this can also be a massive selling point for returners. Lots of people had a career entirely in the City but don’t want to do that anymore. They want a job closer to home that offers more flexibility, but still offers an interesting and challenging place to work. 
Finally, we operate in a very competitive environment, and the experienced hire candidates we interview can sometimes be interviewing with other firms. We always want to explore any avenue to open up new pipelines of candidates for us.

Q. What are the challenges for Fidelity as a business to recruit returners directly? Why did you feel you needed a returnship?
A. If you look at the demographics of a lot of organisations, there can be an increased outflow of women compared to men. This can be for various reasons but many leave to start a family. It's a group that is then hard to reconnect with, who may feel that they are unable to come back. We wanted to promote that Fidelity is a company that supports people returning to work, and a returnship programme is a good way to do that.

Q. What were your impressions when you first received the applications for the New Horizons Technology Programme?
A. We were really, really encouraged, not just by the volume of applications we received, but by the quality. Lots of candidates who applied to us had a background in financial services.  Many also had a background in Technology although we didn’t say it was essential. There were relevant candidates that were local to our offices and we may have missed those in an ordinary recruitment cycle. This first impression was further corroborated on the assessment day when the hiring managers were blown away by the quality of the applicants that they saw. It was a really positive experience.

Q. How many people did you bring into the organisation on the Technology Programme?
A. We brought three people in. One went into an IT support role, another into risk, and the third into project management.

Q. What was the experience like for you as an organisation throughout and at the end of the programme?
A. It was a new programme for us and we were very honest about that from the beginning. I think the candidates appreciated our honesty because it was new for them too. The partnership with Women Returners was very helpful from the beginning as it enabled us to really think about the returners' on-boarding experience. We tried to connect them with as many peers and senior people within the organisation as we could, so that they got to understand who we were as a firm, what businesses we operated in and how we worked internally.  
We aimed to give the returners as much exposure, investment and help as we could. To help them feel supported, we had a review point midway through the programme, we had lunches and we encouraged them to attend a variety of talks. They were each assigned a mentor who provided support outside of their day to day team. We asked for their feedback at the end of the programme and were encouraged to hear that it was a great experience for them.

Q. How did the support from Women Returners fit in with the overall support programme?
A. Women Returners in my opinion offers a very high level of support from beginning to end, which complemented the support we also gave throughout the programme. Their coach gave a face to face briefing with the people who were going to be managing the returners. This was a really worthwhile exercise as they got to understand exactly how the programme was being setup and what their responsibilities were. Women Returners was also involved in the assessment day, where they led a workshop to make the candidates feel more at ease and confident in preparation for the interviews in the afternoon. They then hosted a series of workshops throughout the 20 weeks where they would come down to the offices and work through various training modules with the returners to provide a safe space to express any concerns they had. They acted very effectively as a conduit between ourselves as the employer and the returners as the employees.

Q. What have been the main challenges for you running a returnship programme?
A. That’s a tough one, no major challenges. The business was receptive to it and were very willing to get on board, so we didn’t have to win over anybody’s hearts and minds -  they were there from the beginning. 

Q. What have been the benefits for you as an organisation?
A. We have hired some exceptionally talented, committed returners who I know have had a really rewarding experience, and who have all been offered permanent roles.  We have increased the quality of our workforce by hiring these women, and that’s probably the biggest benefit to us, because any organisation is only as good as the people within it. Our talent is our most valuable commodity. 
There has also been a lot of positive external and internal PR around the programme. Returnships are very much in the media at the moment, talking about how hiring returners is good for the economy and everyone involved. It’s great to be a part of that and to show our employees that we are participating in these programmes.

Q. What has the reception been more broadly within the business?
A. It’s been very good. One of the testaments of that is that the programme has spread into other business areas. We started in Technology and we are now doing a programme within the Investments space. We are looking to scope out a programme in different business areas too. Alongside the successful permanent hires, the main success is that we have expanded the programme beyond its original pilot.

Q. What advice would you have for any other companies thinking of running at returnship programme?
A. Getting key senior level business sponsorship is really important. 
Understanding the type of roles that you want to bring people into is also key. Having a well-defined job description, and knowing what the final destination might be for the returner helps everybody have much more clarity around the programme. 
Making sure that everyone is on the same page, that’s not just an issue for these kind of programmes, it’s an issue for all kind of organisations. Get the right people in the room and get them agreeing on the same things and everyone can move forward with the same understanding.

Q. Are you planning to run future programmes, do you think this will become part of your annual recruitment?
A. I very much hope so. We have completed one programme and we are now into our second. It’s something we hope to continue with going forward. I thoroughly enjoyed working on it from a personal and professional point of view. It’s good to find something in your work that you are passionate about. It’s been a positive experience for me to be on this project, to drive it and to deliver it. 

Posted by Julianne 

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