In 2006, Deutsche Bank drastically beefed up its family-friendly benefits in response to an internal analysis that revealed low retention rates of women after pregnancy.
Under the enhanced benefits package, primary caregiver leave has risen from 12 to a lavish 16 weeks for both birth and adoptive moms, while new mothers may now ease back to work over an eight-week period after maternity leave. At the same time, DB doubled its infertility benefit to $30,000. The strategy paid off.
“There was definitely a marked improvement in the number of both people returning from maternity leave and for those people who had left the organization—after they returned—how long they stayed with us,“ says Bernadette Whitaker, Deutsche Bank’s human resources chief operations officer for the Americas, noting a retention increase of nearly 30 percent in 2008.
In 2008, shortly after our first interview, Whitaker also doubled the bank’s adoption benefit to $10,000. “It just made sense to increase it as a matter of fairness, and to try to further support employees in the expense, which can sometimes be quite large when adopting,” Whitaker explains.
One employee who has taken advantage of the adoption grant twice already is Victor Illonardo, a director in Deutsche Bank’s compliance department. The 43-year-old and his wife Liza Fabian Illonardo, 43, who after a career in corporate philanthropy is now a stay-at-home-mom, always wanted children and had planned on adding adoptive children to the mix.
After attempts to conceive naturally failed, followed by unsuccessful fertility treatments, the couple moved forward with their original plan to adopt. Liza, who was born in the Philippines, felt strongly about adopting from her home country. But the process took a grueling two years before Ronica, now 5, finally arrived in America last year.
In the meantime, the Illonardos had also begun adoption proceedings in China. While Ronica’s adoption dragged on in the Philippines, the Chinese adoption—also a slow process—came through first. In 2007 the couple flew to Nanchong, in Sichuan Province, to bring home their first child Haley, now 2. “It’s just such a crazy experience,” Victor recalls. “All of a sudden, a woman you’ve never seen before puts a baby in your hands. My wife completely lost it, broke down crying.”
The adoptions cost the couple between $25,000 and $30,000 each (excluding travel). Under its former adoption policy, Deutsche Bank had reimbursed the couple $5,000 for Haley’s adoption. By the time Ronica’s adoption was finalized the following year, the Illonardos qualified for the new, doubled stipend.
Besides the great benefits, which also include a week paid leave for each adoption, Victor was particularly impressed by his manager’s amenability. “This is finance and there is tons of pressure. You’re constantly working; you work on your vacations; you work on your weekends,” he says. “And when I told my boss, ‘Look, when I get this call to go get my daughter, you know, I’m gonna be able to give you maybe a week or two notice, but that’s it.’ And he was like, ‘Whatever you need to do. It’s fine.’” For Victor, a man pursuing his dreams of a family, DB’s strong support was an act of uncommon kindness.