60-second interview with Bonnie Steiner

Bonnie Steiner, 28/5/2019

Bonnie Steiner TEP is a Partner at Stonehage Fleming in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

What does your firm or organisation do?

Stonehage Fleming helps families plan for succession, and preserve and grow their wealth and businesses.

What has STEP done for you, individually, or as a business?

STEP’s contribution to the Stonehage Fleming Group, as well as to my career, has been tremendous. The group has won a number of STEP awards over the past few years which have brought it recognition in the industry. STEP’s educational programmes and knowledge-sharing forums have been indispensable for my own training, as well as that of my team members.

You will be speaking at the STEP Employer Partnership Programme (EPP) Summer Forum next month, which is on employee engagement. What will you be covering?

I will be speaking about gender diversity, particularly focusing on the frequent lack of gender balance in top management. I’ll also discuss the importance of gender diversity policies to help eradicate such imbalances, and retain and attract female talent. It’s important to bear in mind that there is an increasing number of wealthy female clients, who have created businesses of their own and/or inherited wealth from their families. These women will not be impressed by an all-male board.

Many studies confirm that organisations with board members who come from a similar background, and share education and networks, are more susceptible to ‘group think’. As a result their financial performance is less effective, and they have less governance and innovation.

When a company limits itself to a single gender in the boardroom, it limits its opportunities for growth at every level. Whilst such boards have been the norm for the past few decades, I believe this will change, and firms that are unwilling to do so will be left behind. The business case for gender-diversified boards is very strong.

How important is employee engagement to the success of an enterprise?

It’s absolutely crucial, and particularly so for financial advisory firms where the people make the firm! If employees are not engaged the clients lose out, as well as the shareholders and, of course, employees won’t stay.

When employees find work engaging, time goes quickly, performance is boosted, ideas are more creative and work relationships are stronger. High staff turnover costs firms millions, and poor employee engagement is behind much of this.

What would you say is the best way to improve employee engagement? Can this be measured?

I’d recommend avoiding a bureaucratic culture, and instead give people freedom, responsibility and trust. These can all be measured in increased productivity.

Equal promotion opportunities are also essential. So many organisations give more recognition to employees who draw attention to themselves, but ignore those who are doing good work which is perhaps behind the scenes. I believe this is a real mistake and causes financial loss.

Can you give any examples?

Let employees work from home, trust them and give them flexible hours if that’s what suits them. It’s also time to stop calling it 'working from home', as it’s just working.

It’s also important for employees to feel empowered and this comes by allowing them to take responsibility, something they tend not to do when they feel micromanaged.

In addition, creating a culture of honest communication and authenticity, where people are free to express their views (without it becoming personal and judgmental), and not feel they have to voice what managers want to hear, does wonders for improving employee engagement, job satisfaction and loyalty, as well as productivity. A healthy creative workplace culture is one where employees feel free to share ideas and opinions openly and honestly.

Where do people go wrong?

Many organisations have layers of managers trying to micromanage every detail. This is not just a waste of energy and resources, it’s highly demoralising for employees. Steep hierarchies are linked to lower job satisfaction, morale and motivation. If a company has hired the right people, it will not have to appoint managers to micromanage them because such people are self-motivated and highly-engaged naturally. When employees are committed to their companies and energised by their work, productivity is boosted and the organisation becomes more successful.

What external resources are there for employers?

There are many employer resources available; one example is the consultancy firm Voice At The Table, which trains employers how to recognise gender bias they may be completely unaware of. Those organisations that truly understand that their people are their most important asset use such resources, as they understand that gender diversity policies are not just a laudable goal, but make business sense long-term.

How did you get interested in the subject, and how do you see it developing?

I first became interested in the subject of equal employment opportunities at university. In the workplace I’ve had first-hand experience observing employers during my ten years as a practicing lawyer in the US and for the last 20 years here in Switzerland, working in the private client arena.

I do feel optimistic that equality in the work place for women will improve as more firms realise that failing to adopt gender diversity policies will hurt the bottom line. And I am also confident some firms, albeit the minority, may adopt such policies because ethically, it’s the right thing to do.

Which social media channels do you use and why?

Stonehage Fleming uses LinkedIn and Twitter. I prefer other more personal non-electronic ways of networking and marketing.

Bonnie Steiner TEP is a US-trained lawyer and partner at Stonehage Fleming, Switzerland. She co-chairs the STEP Lausanne branch.