Talent Fueller Interview with Alexandra de Zwart Haggard, Russell Investments. “Talent Fueller” is our name for individuals who are working to keep, support and fuel female talent whether part of their role or ‘off the side of their desk.’
Bright, engaging and collaborative, we first met Alexandra de Zwart Haggard in the spring of 2013 in Russell Investment’s sun-filled London offices on Regent Street. Watching and listening to how she interacts with the colleagues who are in the meeting with us, it’s clear why she’s an asset and has been promoted several times in quick succession over the last few years. She’s now the Managing Director of Marketing and Product for Europe, the Middle East and Africa and also sits on the European Executive Committee making strategic decisions for the direction of the business and leads the Woman’s Network for the region.
We pick up with Alexandra at a time when she’s about to welcome two direct reports back from maternity leave.
You’ve got an enlightened and genuinely sincere approach to wanting to make the most of returning talent, please tells us about it:
“We’ve got two women currently off on maternity leave and both are going to come back with flexible working hours. One of the employees currently off on maternity leave will be returning to work soon and we’ve had four iterations of her return to work plan. We’ve gone backwards and forwards to ensure that: a) it’s something that she feels she can do and that it’s not overly daunting, b) it’s actually going to get her reengaged quickly enough so she feels she is adding value and finds it rewarding as early as possible and c) that her childcare commitments work.
To begin with, she wanted to return to work for just one day per week working from home for the first couple of weeks. My immediate reaction to that was, ‘I can see why you are asking for that, but if you do that, you are not going to feel like you are contributing. You’ll feel really far away from the rest of the team and you’re not going to feel valued and important and I want you to feel valued and important from the moment you walk back in the door.’ She’s now decided to work two days per week in the office and add the home days around that, gradually building up to working five days per week. We agreed she would feel more immediately engaged if she were in the office and benefiting from a little bit of the buzz of being here. This initial phased return period will take place over two or three months. Her maternity cover is going to continue to work all the way through her return to work phase – people have been fairly liberal with their budgets which I’m really grateful for. It means that nobody is under any pressure.”
Thinking more broadly, how are you attracting and retaining talent?
“Russell Investments are at the beginning of a journey of being more proactive about having gender diversity. Over the years, we’ve had a number of individual outstanding women in the organisation; at present, two members of our European Executive committee are female. One of our independent directors sitting on the global board is also a woman. But it feels like this more by luck than by design.
So now we want to be more proactive in attracting talent during the recruitment process, by explaining why Russell is an attractive place to work, for women in particular. I think asset management is a good financial service for women to work in, better than perhaps investment banking as we offer a very supportive atmosphere, for women at all levels in the business.
In terms of retaining talent, as a woman who’s been supported and assisted all the way through my career (I started as an intern here), I look for opportunities to help people at all of the major turning points of their career, and those little bits in between as well. For example, this morning, I talked to an associate whose manager has decided not to work for the organisation anymore. I’ve had some one on one time with her so she’s OK and she understands her current situation. I want her to know she has access to me and that I will help her if she’s got questions. I do go out of my way to make sure these people are alright, it wouldn’t matter if it was male or female, it’s important to give everybody the best possible opportunity.
On the business benefits of diversity
“Our clients are more and more interested in environmental, social and governance issues than they have been before, and have been asking us about our diversity. At present, we don’t really have an answer to the gender diversity component. This could, in the long term affect our ability to sell and retain our products. To a degree, we are following the market’s demand, if this is something our clients want, then it’s something we have to do. If we don’t, we will fall behind, not least because more diverse firms have been demonstrated to be more successful.
We are a company whose purpose is to create a return for our shareholders so we have to bear that in mind. We are not a charity and we are not doing this for charitable reasons, we are doing this because it makes sense for Russell so this takes some of the emotion out of it. Some people aren’t necessarily converts of diversity for diversity’s sake which I can understand.
On an individual basis, if we don’t support diversity, female employees choose to stop doing this job and find something much closer to home that allowed her to work flexibly but would be much less rewarding from a financial perspective. That would be such a shame as she would be lost to the workforce in financial services as it’s very difficult to come back into it when you stop. It would be a shame both for her and the industry.
We’re still very early in the process but we hope that we can further support all kinds of diversity at Russell as it’s something that’s important to us. We’re learning as we go along.”
Your final pearls of wisdom at this point?
Find the right path for you. Everyone’s path is different, so different things are appropriate for different people. You can’t plan it out in advance.
Also, look for companies who are supportive of individuals, irrespective of the situation that they are in. I have been really fortunate as I’ve had a number of people who have lifted me up and given me opportunities – I was promoted to head of marketing six weeks before going on my second maternity leave and within three months of coming back from maternity leave was made managing director and given a place on the executive committee. Russell is pretty extraordinary.”
Is there someone in your organisation who’s making efforts to keep, support and stretch female talent that we could shine a light on? Go on, make their day and put us in touch with him or her.