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Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Shattering the myth that motherhood has to be a barrier to career success – Carolanne Minashi, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at UBS


Carolanne Minashi is Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at UBS, having joined in February 2016 after 29 years at Citi. Her key specialisms are talent management, employee relations and leadership development and she is an active supporter of the 30% Club, as well as being a volunteer for the Pilotlight Charity, which uses business skills to coach charities towards sustainability. Outside work, Carolanne is married with four children. 

Carolanne Minashi
Carolanne Minashi

“… sometimes in organisations there’s an assumption that women with young children don’t want to travel, don’t want the international assignments. There’s also the opposite, equally misplaced assumption that men with young children are fine taking an international assignment or jumping on a plane four times a week …”

My passion for diversity and inclusion

I joined UBS on 1 February, so I’ve just passed the 100-day mark. Before that, I spent 29 years at Citi in a variety of HR roles: from leadership and executive development to talent management and employee relations. And, of course, diversity, which is, I would say, my primary passion.

I am passionate about diversity and inclusion because, having spent my life in large organisations, I can see the opportunities for improvement. And I am a convinced advocate of the business case that organisations with more inclusive cultures are more innovative, provide better service to clients and are better places for everyone to work.

Drawing on my experience, I am able to provide a pragmatic approach that supports commercial business in moving these agendas forward from abstract and aspirational ‘nice to haves’ to execution, delivery and results. That’s why I feel like I’m in the right space.

Laying the foundations to tackle diversity as a business challenge

My first 100 days have been about getting to know the organisation, meeting hundreds of people and identifying stakeholders. But even in that time, we’ve already been able to lay the foundations for more effective diversity and inclusion strategy management. The executive team at UBS recognises that making progress on diversity is a business challenge, and to manage it in the right way, we need to have the right tools.

This means having clearly defined goals, management accountability and metrics that track progress. Although inclusion is much broader, we’re very interested in moving the gender agenda forward. This is why we’ve developed a global gender strategy that will help the firm deliver on its aspirations.

Shattering the motherhood myth

At this point, I have to declare an interest! I’m a mum of four children and have worked throughout.

Pregnant-womanLet’s start with a few facts. The first blindingly obvious fact is that while not all women are mothers, only women become mothers.

My research into the financial services sector indicates that around 5% of the female workforce become new mothers every year. I’ve tracked this data for a long time and this seems to be a consistent figure. So from a management point of view, this is something that can be planned for and shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

In addition, if you look at motherhood, especially in the Western world, it is the over-35 bracket that has the fastest-growing birth rate. And within this group, the motherhood rate for the over-40s has doubled in the last decade. So we have the undeniable fact that if you employ women, guess what – some of those women are going to become mothers!

The research shows it’s 5% of the female workforce every year, and that motherhood is stretching through the career cycle of female employees – from the early twenties to the mid-forties. Women could become mothers at any point during a very substantial proportion of their working lives.

Don’t miss out on opportunities: Support parents of young children

It is essential that senior leaders accept that this is just another normal feature of corporate life, and I am convinced that most organisations – and especially most large organisations – genuinely aspire to have more senior women in leadership roles.

I fundamentally believe that unless we support women when they go through maternity transition, and both men and women when they are parents of young children, we’re missing out on opportunities. And these missed opportunities often affect employee engagement, innovation, attraction of talent.

Moving beyond a binary view of motherhood

I think the myth that becoming a mother is a big barrier is a binary way of looking at women’s employment and women’s work; that somehow when you become a mother you choose a ‘mummy track’ or you’re not working at all.

You’ve got to start with really good policies on maternity and paternity leave (and shared parental leave too, in the Father-and-babyUK). These need to support and enable people to go through a period of absence when they’re going through the maternity or paternity transition, and then to transition back. Policy counts for a lot.

But the real differentiator is what you do in addition to policy. For me, this starts with raising the capability of line managers to help men and women going through transition. At both UBS and my former organisation, a lot has been invested in raising manager capability and improving these conversations – with a strong focus on transitioning back.

Moving beyond an ‘either / or’ to create a more blended sense of life

There’s a lot of support for the women themselves in terms of helping them understand how they can navigate to a successful maternity leave and back. But once they’re back from maternity leave, being a mother doesn’t just stop. You have to create flexible systems – not just flexible working – to help parents have a more blended sense of life. In other words, not only enabling them to be as effective as they would want to be at work, but also creating a space where they can be effective parents.

When organisations create a structure where people have to choose between their job or their family, it becomes a stark binary choice, and that’s where the whole thing breaks down. So UBS works incredibly hard to support transition and help people feel that it really isn’t an ‘either / or’ choice after all – you can have this blended existence where you can actually be highly effective in your work domain, effective in your home and family domain, and effective in your personal domain.

Motherhood isn’t a barrier to career success

If you look at the women who have become really successful and got into senior leadership roles, you find real diversity. There are women who don’t have children, there are women who have children and there are women who have lots of children – Helena Morrissey has nine. There are many good examples of women with children successfully performing senior or mid-level roles. It’s certainly not a barrier.

In terms of key people processes, I do think that organisations need to be careful not to make assumptions when hiring people, promoting people or deciding who’s going to get the stretch opportunity. It’s all too easy to assume that, if an employee has a young family, she may not be interested in an international assignment.

Organisations can easily make blanket assumptions, and so my approach is to create spaces where people can have conversations: not to simply assume that a promotion isn’t wanted if it involves more travel. You have the conversation to ask: “What would you like?” It’s about finding the space where you can create conversations around career development – aspirational conversations. Where does somebody want to go?

A double bind that negatively impacts fathers just as much

It’s helpful because sometimes if you just look at the double bind that mums find themselves in, it negatively impacts young fathers just as much. So sometimes in organisations there’s an assumption that women with young children Planedon’t want to travel, don’t want the international assignments. There’s also the opposite, equally misplaced assumption that men with young children are fine taking an international assignment or jumping on a plane four times a week.

Another factor I would like to mention is the generational shift in the debate from a baby-boomer way of looking at life to a more Millennial perspective. There is no question in my mind that there’s a new generation of parents coming forward who want a much more shared, equal, blended existence where both parents enjoy successful careers and both parents take a really active role in what’s going on at home.

A massive shift in the world of work – flexibility for everyone

There’s a massive shift happening in the world of work and I think it’s set to continue over the next decade. That is, a shift towards agile and flexible working. It’s connected with the motherhood issue , because for too long the debate in the space around flexible working has been occupied solely by working mums who want to work on a part time basis. This is now being fundamentally challenged, and the focus is increasingly moving away from how many hours you work – it’s more about the schedule you work to, the place where you work, and how you work. We’re seeing this a lot in our sector.

Technology is making a big difference, such as being able to work remotely, whether from home, from a client’s office or from your standard office. The paradigm shift is saying that there’s something inherently valuable here to all employees, not just this one sector of your employee base, but actually whether it’s time off to go and study, or maybe take a caring responsibility, or maybe just because you’re training for the marathon. Finding ways to help people have a better sense of themselves outside work is where we are heading.

Banishing the perceived penalty for moving towards a flexible schedule

One of the fundamental things we do as organisations (and this is hard work!) is to de-stigmatise what happens when you move to a more flexible schedule. One of the things that holds this back, and quite frankly, keeps us stuck in the nineteenth century, is that there is a perceived penalty for people who do move towards a flexible schedule.

Mother-and-babyWhile the perception exists, rightly or wrongly, that you could move to a flexible schedule but your career might stall as a result, that’s not really what you want to be doing in the two years prior to chasing a big promotion. While this persists, it limits our ability to embrace a more agile way of working.

There is a tension here. I have lots of conversations both internally and externally and there’s common agreement on the direction we’re taking. It is just a matter of time, but it is long, slow, hard work.

All roads lead to manager capability and creating safe spaces for frank conversations

For me, all roads lead to managers and their ability to engage in conversations. – to sit down with all of their team members individually, and also to have a collective conversation around the question: “Have we got this work / life blend right for you at this moment?”

I was at a meeting yesterday where Charlotte Gascoigne of Timewise quoted a statistic that 20%–40% of full time employees would like to work part time, while 65% of people working more than 48 hours a week would like to work less. Very revealing figures.

There’s a disconnect between a group of executives and professional people in these extreme jobs who are all saying: “I’d love to find a way to have more balance.” And that’s doesn’t necessarily mean going down to a four-day-a-week schedule. It might be: “I want to find a way to have more balance so I can pick my kids up from school one day a week, and then log on later.”

Introducing Career Comeback

Up to this point we’ve been talking about how you can grow and develop a career and be a working mum. There are lots of people who decide that they just want to focus on raising their kids or to take time out for a while, with the view that they might want to step back in at some point, perhaps when their kids go to school. What we found at UBS is that trying to get back into corporate life is incredibly difficult. Even getting through the CV screening process can be a problem after a five or seven year career break.

New-YorkIn response to this challenge, UBS has just launched Career Comeback, a programme specifically targeting those who have taken time out. You only qualify for the programme if you’ve had a career break.

We’re launching it in Switzerland and the US to try to give people a genuine opportunity to return to their career. This comes from the belief that even if somebody takes a full career break and literally stops their career, their learning doesn’t stop. They’ve still got their professional skills and qualifications, so when it’s right for them they can pick it up again, return to an organisational setting and make a strong contribution.

I was thinking about some of the fundamental business skills that we all need for building relationships and negotiating, and I realised I probably learnt some of my key negotiation skills with my toddler-age children.

I’m really proud of the programme. We’re launching it now and we’re going to have our first group of women coming on board in September, so it will be really interesting to see how they get on. It sends the unmistakable message that being a full time mother means you can still learn and still come back and make a contribution.

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