BMO program helps women get back to work after career gap


Dive Brief:

  • BMO last month launched a returnship program in partnership with The Mom Project to help women transition back to the workforce after a career gap.
  • The Chicago-based program aims to recruit, train and upskill women for full-time technology roles while providing support and mentorship.
  • The returnship program supports BMO’s Zero Barriers to Inclusion corporate strategy that focuses on closing the gender gap and helping women progress in their careers.

Dive Insight:

“BMO has had a commitment to working women,” Mary Kay Kaminski, managing director for U.S. personal and business banking at BMO, said in an interview with Banking Dive. About 40% of BMO’s leadership roles are filled by women, but the bank wants to increase that percentage, Kaminski said.

“We felt that by partnering with The Mom Project, we can continue our efforts to break down those barriers, and the women we hire will play an important role in our personal and business banking technology teams going forward,” Kaminski said.

About 2 million women left the job market in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a 2020 National Women’s Law Center report, with moms of color most impacted by job loss.

The Mom Project’s suite of hiring, education and retention solutions is directed at moms who want to discover their potential and contribute to emerging industries.

The bank is launching its pilot program with an eye toward expanding to other lines of businesses and, potentially, in other cities, Kaminski said. 

The program helped the bank fill one of two developer roles. The bank is still interviewing for the second. Through the program’s model, BMO can fill positions as often as required over 12 months. The bank must pay a subscription price to open these roles, and that goes toward funding The Mom Project.

For every BMO hire, the Mom Project will provide a technical scholarship through RISE, a nonprofit, equity-focused upskilling division designed to boost the career opportunities of moms and women of color, the bank said.

“We see firsthand how our RISE graduates have significantly benefited from the ability to upskill and pivot careers and industries, proving the economic and social value these programs deliver to an underserved but very talented group of women,” Allison Robinson, CEO of The Mom Project, said in the press release.

BMO’s diversity goals led to Zero Barriers to Inclusion 2025, a multiyear strategy focused on providing opportunities to groups facing systemic barriers. By that year, the bank wants to have people of color in 30% of its U.S. senior leadership roles. Specifically, it aims for 7% of those rolls to be filled by Black employees, and another 7% filled by Latinos.

Elsewhere, the bank has committed $1.2 million in funding to SheEO, a nonprofit organization offering financial support to businesses led by women and nonbinary people.

The returnship program comes hot on the heels of a five-year, $40 billion community benefits effort aimed at boosting homeownership and small-business growth in low-to-moderate income (LMI) neighborhoods and communities of color. That was unveiled last month, in part to push BMO’s $16.3 billion proposed acquisition of Bank of the West from BNP Paribas over the finish line.

Recruits in the returnship program can access a slew of benefits, including paid maternity and parental leave for 16 weeks with an option of up to eight weeks of unpaid bonding time to care for a newborn or adopted child; 10 days of paid backup childcare services per child; six passes of virtual tutoring per calendar year for students K-12 connected to each participant; and tuition refund programs and scholarship opportunities.

“It’s been one of the most fulfilling and inspiring things I’ve done at BMO,” Kaminski said of the initiative. “I see BMO across the enterprise, just looking for ways to break down those barriers and make sure that we’re investing in the right areas … especially as it relates to women.”

BMO is “ahead of the curve,” Kaminski added. “So I just hope that the program is the success I think it will be and that we can continue to do more innovative things like this.”

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