Are Internships The Way To Get Women Back Into Finance?

An internship is something we associate with 20-somethings on their summer breaks from college, but for some industries , particularly finance, they may be the best strategy to get women back in the workforce. For talented women that took a few years off to either have children or be with their children, very structured internships help ease them back into their jobs. Companies such as Goldman Sachs and Sara Lee have been using this strategy for a few years and it seems to be spreading. Some of these women, even though they may have been working for years in finance and were progressing up the ladder nicely, almost went back to square one once they left for a few years. ”It’s the same catch-22 when you get out of school: You can’t get a job without a current reference and you can’t get a current reference without a job,” said Martha Fell, chief executive officer of Women in Capital Markets, a Toronto-based not-for-profit group dedicated to promoting the entry, advancement and development of women in the industry. “Someone needs to take the risk in hiring you, believing in you and giving you a chance,” she said in an interview.

This is why Women in Capital Markets, with sponsorship from BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc., has launched an award for women looking to re-establish their careers. In addition to a $5,000 grant toward an education program and access to a mentor, the award offers women a three-month internship at the bank. This may be the key to retaining women in the Canadian financial industry. In Canada, potential candidates for this award are drawn from a very small pool. The number of women in Canadian capital markets, including wealth management, is about 6,300, according to a 2008 Catalyst report, or 39% of the industry overall. Women held only 17% of all line positions, which entails profit-and-loss, revenue-generation and direct client responsibility. And only line positions carry suitable responsibilities that are necessary for advancement to more senior positions. “Obviously we are not blind. When you look at the statistics relating to our industry, that representation of women in our work force is actually low, and lower than we think it should be,” said Tom Milroy, chief executive officer of BMO Nesbitt Burns, to the Globe and Mail. “We started to think about what we can do as a firm to address that.”

Goldman Sachs’ Returnship program and BMO’s internship program may be part of the solution to women leaving finance and could possibly be applied to help keep women in other industries. Now entering its fourth year, the Goldman Sachs Returnship program has expanded to include Hong Kong, Singapore, Salt Lake City, and New Jersey – and the firm is looking to include London as well. One alumna of the Goldman program explained:

Having the program as an eight or ten week internship really creates an opportunity to see: does this make sense for me at this time in my life? It’s a chance to both have the participant interview the company as well as the company interview the participant. Is the fit correct? And do we understand what our mutual goals and opportunities might be? So it’s a process of assessment and acclimation that’s so important.

Carol Fishman Cohen, who co-founded the re-entry program iRelaunch, advises women looking to return to the work force after an extended absence to consider suggesting a temporary internship to a potential employer. She also suggests taking on volunteer work relevant to your field to help re-enter the workforce and adjust. For new stay-at-home moms who know they might eventually return, she advises maintaining contact with coworkers and supervisors, staying in touch with your field of expertise through self-education, and re-evaluating your career choice before going back to work.

Photo: SVLuma/

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