A personal touch is the key to helping women get back to the workplace, as Japanese financial firm Nikko Asset Management (Nikko AM) can attest.
The firm is proactive when it comes to helping mothers in their career development and lifestyle needs, said Ms Eleanor Seet, the Singapore-based president and head of Asia ex-Japan at Nikko AM.
"Our human resource team, together with the manager of the mother-to-be, will work on achieving a win-win solution for both parties.
"We exercise flexibility to meet our employees halfway, putting in place sensible human resources policies that support mothers who want to carry on working."
The firm strongly believes that putting the family first does not mean a meaningful career is out of reach, and Ms Seet wants to reach out to "many mothers who are hesitant to pursue a 'full' career".
In the spotlight
Even with a sick toddler crying as she made her way to the hospital, investment writer Jacqueline Mok, who was just five months into the job, knew she could count on Nikko Asset Management (Nikko AM).
Ms Mok was not on any formal arrangement to work flexible hours but found that she was able to take time off or leave to care for her son when needed, and had the choice to work from home.
Ms Mok had left her role as an investment analyst in 2012.
She was a stay-at-home mum for a few years before joining the workforce again last year, this time with Nikko AM.
As an investment writer specialising in requests for proposals for Singapore and Hong Kong, she works with business teams to draft and assemble pitches.
Ms Eleanor Seet, president of Nikko AM, noAted: "She felt supported by an understanding boss and colleagues.
"While the firm is performance-driven, the accommodative work environment gave her the peace of mind that enabled her to focus on her son when the situation called for it."
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HCP recognises and supports employers committed to programmes that nurture a stronger Singaporean core, maximise complementarity between locals and foreigners, and enhance skills transfer from foreign to local employees in order to increase the capabilities of the workforce.
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"The issue goes beyond a competitive compensation package. There has to be enough support both at home and at work."
Mothers who leave their careers midway to grow their families are also part of the group of professionals, managers, executives and technicians, and firms such as Nikko AM know what it takes to lend a helping hand. It has been offering flexible working arrangements on an informal basis since 2011 after identifying the need, and recently embarked on a programme to groom women leaders.
Ms Seet said: "We have an educated women talent pool in Singapore who provide a good counter to the labour shortage and the ageing population. As a firm, we embrace diversity and we believe a good mix of gender is beneficial to us."
She said 30 per cent of women at Nikko AM are in senior positions, and around 17 per cent of employees at the firm are over the age of 50.
A mid-career switch is possible in Nikko AM, which is part of the Human Capital Partnership (HCP) Programme, as joining HCP "affirms our journey to be an employer of choice, attracting and retaining the best to make a difference to clients", said Ms Seet.
"We enable our women employees by fostering an environment that provides the support they need to continue in or rejoin the workforce. The recognition as a HCP partner, which is an unintended result, is testimony to the genuineness and effectiveness of our approach."
And the firm does go the extra mile. Besides the usual maternity benefits of leave and comprehensive medical benefits covering dependants, it offers support in terms of career counselling, additional maternity flexible-work arrangements during and post-pregnancy.
"We have even retrofitted some of our meeting rooms to allow privacy for nursing mothers," she added.
The firm's investment in training ranges from 1 to 2 per cent of its payroll expenses, depending on factors including specific training and human resource development objectives, economics of the firm and other business priorities.
"We have in place learning and development activities to provide our employees with the opportunity to acquire necessary skills to meet current and future job demands and we also have a clear framework for career development," said Ms Seet.
"To ensure that our people are ahead of the game, we are looking to provide training for specific business groups as the business evolves and as more products and services are provided."
She noted its human capital development programme is driven by each team's leader, from the bottom-up, and is customised to employee needs, including soft and hard skills. Ms Seet pointed out that like so many firms, Nikko AM is just as exposed to external forces, stiff competition and workforce challenges such as the multi-generational workforce or talent shortage. This is why "a winning employee value proposition is key to overcoming human capital obstacles".
"Investment in human capital is for the long term, but in the shorter term, we can already see that having a happy and engaged group of people results in happier and more satisfied clients. Greater engagement gives employees a stronger sense of affiliation and belonging," said Ms Seet. "Companies in Singapore which make their human capital a priority are investing for their future survival."
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