Constructing On-Ramps (Case Study 1)

Helping Mid-Career Women Return to Work in IT

Lehman Brothers Encore program, created by chief diversity officer Anne Erni, is an innovative initiative that aims to recruit and support professionals who have left the workforce but are interested in resuming their careers. The program began in response to the “Off-Ramps and On-Ramps” study published in Harvard Business Review in March 2005. The study, co-sponsored by Lehman Brothers, identified some of the barriers women face as they attempt to re-enter the workforce after taking time off for a variety of familial responsibilities. According to President Joe Gregory, the program is also part of Lehman’s effort to counter Wall Street’s “last coat on the chair” culture and instead provide the flexibility that will enable the company to “get and keep the best people” (Shellenbarger, 2007).

Lehman Brothers launched Encore in November 2005 with an informational seminar and luncheon in New York that offered participants the chance to network, learn about industry updates, and explore flexible work possibilities at Lehman Brothers. A similar kick-off event was held in London in February 2006. To identify potential attendees, the company used the contacts and networks of its current employees, tracking down former Lehman employees and other professionals who had left Wall Street jobs. Additional referrals came from organizations such as Women on Wall Street. Approximately 70 candidates attended the New York event, and the London event attracted more than 50 attendees.

Encore candidates are eligible for all open positions within the company and are invited to interview based on the open positions at the time and the qualifications of the candidate. A significant portion of the first-year attendees participated in follow-up interviews. To foster the success of these applicants, the company established a unique Encore email address and assigned two designated recruiters to handle these applications. This was important for ensuring that “nontraditional” resumes with gaps for child-rearing, eldercare, or other familial responsibilities would not end up being tossed aside. In this first year of the program, Lehman Brothers hired 20 new employees – nearly 20% of the seminar attendees – through this process.

Once hired, these employees have access to a number of flexible work arrangements including reduced or compressed work weeks, “flextime” or flexible hours, “flexspace” or telecommuting options, and job sharing. A lateral recruiting team works with hiring managers to help accommodate specific requests for flexible work arrangements. Roughly half of the Encore recruits work part-time or flexible hours.

Because these kinds of programs sometimes create resentment among employees with more traditional career paths, Lehman brothers also offers flexible work arrangements to all employees in good standing. All employees also have access to ongoing training and mentoring to help them update and enhance their current skills and experience.

Since the program is still in its infancy, long-term evaluation efforts have yet to be completed; likewise further research is needed to determine how beneficial programs like Encore will be for technical women. Meanwhile, though, the program is garnering increasing interest in its second year. Erni and her team emailed 16,000 employees to identify contacts who may be interested in the program, and, during the second year seminar, a panel of employees hired during Encore’s first year spoke about their experiences with the company. Out of 200 referrals, Encore has invited approximately 50 candidates to interview. In addition, the program is now open to men, and this year seven men are among the interviewees. Similar efforts are being conducted later in the year in Tokyo and in London. For more information see the Lehman Brothers Encore website listed below.


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Author: Catherine Ashcraft