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Women bankers criticise UBS over maternity leave cuts to bonuses

Pregnant woman in an office
The UBS management faces questions over its bonus policy towards women. © Keystone/Gaetan Bally

Top women bankers at UBS have criticised Switzerland’s biggest lender over its practice of using their maternity leave as a reason for imposing long-term cuts to their bonuses, raising questions over its commitment to gender equality.

Some have resigned in frustration — forgoing promotions in at least two cases — while others having begrudgingly continued working for less pay than before they became mothers, according to several current and former UBS employees.

One woman had her bonus reduced and re-based four times after having had four children. Another was informed that being a working mother was a “lifestyle choice” by means of explanation for her lower bonus, while someone else was told to “focus on her baby” when she challenged the policy.

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“Basically once pregnant, one will never catch-up again with male colleagues in the career one has built up prior to going on maternity,” said one of the women, who still works for the bank. Despite multiple complaints, “the practice still continues, women still live through it exactly the same, nothing has changed in times where [UBS] is very proud of promoting what a great bank this is for women to work in”.

More than a dozen women in the Swiss wealth management unit have complained about the treatment they received when they took time off to have children, which in many cases resulted in their bonuses being cut 30% or more. Despite the bank pledging to address the issue more than a year ago, some women continue to be affected.

The practice in question meant UBS applied a reduction to the annual bonuses of those women who took the seven months of leave offered to new mothers, the people said. However, when the bankers returned their incentive pay was not restored to its former level, but rather re-based at the lowered amount. In many cases, three years or more later it had still not recovered.

The women affected span the higher ranks of the core wealth management unit in the lender’s home country. Executive directors, directors and associate directors have all formally complained about their treatment to their line managers, human resources and the head of diversity and inclusion, the people said. They have also formed a private group to share their experiences and lobby for change.

After being made aware of the problem last year, UBS’s global head of diversity and inclusion, Carolanne Minashi, promised a formal review of the bank’s post-maternity leave bonus policy and raised the issue with those in charge of the “global reward” team, according to documents seen by the FT.

While a bank spokesman said Ms Minashi took the issue seriously and had installed new safeguards since then, some women were still being affected, the people said.

“It is extremely important to us that employees with similar roles, performance and experience are rewarded equally and fairly,” UBS said. “We approach the issue of parental leave proactively and systematically during the reward process to determine whether there are gaps and to close those gaps if we find any.”

Stefan Seiler, its global head of HR, said any women who felt their pay had been inappropriately affected should get in touch with him directly to correct any mistakes. The spokesman added that the comments made by some managers about motherhood “were archaic and have no place anywhere in UBS culture”.

In Switzerland, UBS offers women six months maternity leave at full salary, with an optional seventh month of unpaid time off. That is more generous than the 14 weeks guaranteed under Swiss law, among the lowest of any country on the continent.

By contrast, new fathers are given two weeks off by UBS — with the option to take another four unpaid — and their bonuses are not reduced “pro-rata” to reflect this, according to two male staff who took paternity leave and still received their full bonus.

Additionally, some Swiss men take a few weeks leave every year for as long as a decade to fulfil their mandatory national military service and UBS did not reduce their bonuses in a similar way, the two male employees said.

UBS has been one of the more vocal banks about gender equality. Chairman Axel Weber has repeatedly called for more females in executive and leadership positions and set a goal that at least one-third of top management jobs should go to women.

However, there is only one woman on UBS’s 13-strong group executive board, while the supervisory board has four female directors and eight male ones.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR