International Women’s Day – Soundbites vs Reality.
A MALE HEADHUNTER’S VIEW …
Wandering through Leeds on Friday lunchtime, there was a rather large and incredibly loud march taking place. At first it was just an ambiguous noise, but as they got closer I could see the group was 90% female and they were chanting ‘Women are united, never to be defeated!’. My honest reaction was ‘Crikey, do we still need such a militant message in the 21st Century, and who exactly do they think they are fighting?’. It was of course International Women’s Day and they were speaking up about the injustice that they believe they are still facing today. A bit outdated, maybe?
Following International Women’s Day, I have read many PC soundbites about how ‘we must do more’ and ‘in honour of women’ but I have also read some alarming stats such as only 14% of investment professionals and 17% of UK IT specialists are female and only 6.4% of executive FTSE 250 board positions are filled by women. Are these just soundbites, or do employers truly believe in gender equality?
This led me to think about a number of points.
The first point – which I am incredibly proud of – is that at Directorbank, over half of our workforce are female; and no, this is not just in the back office. This includes Office Managers, Researchers, Consultants and Board Directors. Our highest fee earner is female, as are our Marketing Director and Head of Research.
My second point is on the issue of supply of female candidates. At Directorbank, we have had a significant increase in the number of our Private Equity clients requesting 50% of shortlists to be female. This creates a headache for us because there simply is not the quantity of female candidates compared to men; one look at our vast database built up over two decades will tell you that. And nor has there been a significant increase in the last few years which is incredibly disappointing, and somewhat worrying.
So, how has Directorbank been able to build a successful workforce comprising of 50% female employees, whilst many industries continue to fail to increase their female workforce? I am sure there have been many theoretical University studies by people with far larger brains than my own, but after twenty years of recruitment experience I will give you my two pennies.
At Directorbank, not one employee has been hired specifically because of gender; all candidates were hired because they were the best candidate for the job, and I can guarantee that not one of our female employees would have wanted it any other way. So, how have we achieved this and are there any lessons our clients can learn from us? The main reasons are our flexibility and culture.
In today’s modern world, more women than ever are career-minded and do not want to compromise this, and why should they? Some women are focused solely on their career, whilst others wish to balance their career with the rewarding, but often challenging, demands of Motherhood. Directorbank offers the flexibility to working Mums not to have to choose one or the other; they can have both.
Irrespective of gender, what drives many people is the desire to provide for their family and so why should women have to compromise their career to raise a family, when for generations men haven’t? This is not some male liberal mumbo-jumbo, this is finding a solution to the challenges of modern life and it helps men as much as women, because it enables us to also work from home when our children are off colour. In a world where modern communications enable us to work remotely, we should take advantage of this more. Today, too many Bosses still think that if you are not in the office, then you are not as efficient as those who are. What claptrap!
If you trust your workforce, I can guarantee they will be more productive when given this flexibility because it is appreciated and they don’t have to battle the daily commute. You still can’t beat face-to-face time with clients and colleagues, but rarely do people want to spend all their time working from home either; employees just want the ability to be flexible, often at short notice. Some employees also want to only work four days per week so they can have an extra day at home to be Mum or Dad aware that their children’s early years are golden. As employers, we have to be able to offer this, without it affecting the quality of service we provide our clients. At Directorbank, we feel we have achieved that balance.
With our customer-facing hat on, how do we continue to provide an excellent service and increase the number of high calibre, board-level female candidates? Is positive discrimination the way forward? I was lucky enough to spend some time in South Africa in the early Noughties when I came across positive discrimination for the first time. Following apartheid, the skilled workforce was predominantly white and so a policy of positive discrimination was enforced to increase the number of black employees in companies. The Government felt this was required because, under apartheid, black people had not been afforded the level of education which white people had enjoyed. And so, whilst education caught up, positive discrimination was required. Initially, many South Africans were uncomfortable with this because they felt the best person should get the job, irrespective of skin colour, but there was also a lot of support for it too from the white population.
Do we look at doing something similar to increase diversity, both gender and ethnicity? Personally, I am not a fan of quotas, but there has to be more pressure from CEOs and Chairman to create a more equal workforce. Soundbites are easy, but what is your official policy guys? And it is mostly guys. So, when a client asks us Headhunters for 50% female shortlists, and therefore making our search harder, we need to embrace their request. Yes, it means a tough search, but that’s what they are paying us for and it is the only way to increase diversity.
So, how do we increase the supply of candidates? This starts at an early age. I am a Father of an eight year old girl and at the weekend I took fourteen girls to my daughter’s birthday party. I would feel incredibly aggrieved if these young ladies did not have the same opportunities as my son and his friends. We have to build a culture where women not only believe that they can succeed, but they are given the opportunities to fulfil these aspirations. I am not an expert on education so I will leave that to others, but we must build an education structure which is truly equal. I’m not sure we are quite there yet either. We also need to support the next generation of young females in the workforce, whether they wish to build a family or not, to rise through the ranks. If they do want a family, then we must offer them the flexibility to achieve this. This is not just for fairness, but because those businesses with a balanced workforce are statistically more productive too.
So, to those women out there who have forged a successful career in a landscape that’s still far too weighted towards men, I doff my cap to you. And to all women out there, don’t lose hope in us men. Many of us men have daughters who we wish to grow up in an equal world too.
To all those men out there who have influence to improve their male/female balance, let’s stop the PC soundbites on one day per year. Instead, how about on International Women’s Day every year, you publish your male/female ratios and the progress that your company has made on equality? Ironically, it is currently men who can improve this balance, so let’s do our part. And what will I do? This time next year, I will publish what percentage of our shortlists were women.
Written by James Searby
Directorbank Executive Search
T. 020 7255 7940 / 0113 297 8000