Why Are We Experiencing Gender Gaps at a Senior Level?

Written by EO Executives on Aug 30, 2018


Working closely with the internal hiring team at EO Executives to attract new talent, has pushed me to reflect on the lack of gender diversity within the recruitment industry at senior level.  

Whilst recruitment providers are not facing this challenge in isolation, it has really got me thinking about why this is the case and what can be done about it. Following several conversations with HR leaders within my network on the topic, there was one reference to this challenge that really stood out to me. The recruitment industry is facing a “Missing Middle.”

So where does it all start?   

Research conducted by Nominet  found that when surveyed around career aspirations, 13% of girls surveyed wanted to be a fashion designer  when they left school, whereas 36.5% of boys aspired to be computer games developers. 

This indicates that there are different perceptions by the sexes on the types of roles deemed as ‘attractive’ at a young age. For example, the survey showed nearly twice as many 11-18-year-old boys (43%) than girls (25%) wanted to work in an IT department after completing formal education.  Whilst in the same survey, traditional careers such as police officer, lawyer, doctor or nurse were half as appealing as tech developer roles among 11-18-year olds. 

Could the “Missing Middle” be influenced by to the career paths we are encouraged to follow from a young age?  

How do we overcome this to promote non-stereotypical careers or industries to all? 

This is not a new question but, this is a topic I am passionate about. Having recruited within the HR Discipline for well over a decade now, I have heard of organisations implementing fresh ideas where it is no longer about talent attraction via ‘The milk round. Organisations are now looking to influence children prior to GCSE subject selection 

One innovative organisation has launched an advertising campaign to show at cinemas during the school holidays. With the goal of enticing children and their parents to select particular GCSE subjects that they may not have considered, all with the aim of making an impression on their future career selection. 

So, what do you do once you entice candidates to your organisation? 

I know numerous successful individuals, many of whom joined organisations through graduate schemes that left a couple of years later to pursue other interests or careers in the subject matter that they studied in.

Reflecting on this in the recruitment industry specifically, I wonder if some of these individuals felt that they had a ‘job’ as opposed to a career. 

Typically, within providers (recruitment agencies) individuals who stayed within an organisation beyond the 2 ½ - 3-year mark would often stay the duration. This indicates that the first couple of years are paramount in influencing an individual’s career decision.  

As hiring managers should we have ensured that employees had clarity up front about their career path and journey within the organisation? Clearly it does not always have to be about ‘climbing the ranks’ and it may just be about how they would get access to different opportunities within the business. 

Work-based training should not only satisfy the skills needed within that role, but it should also build on the talent that exists within the organisation.  This would this reduce the expenditure required to recruit and secure fresh talent time and time again but, it would also increase motivation and loyalty amongst employees. 

This creates a stronger organisational culture and boosts productivity as a result. It would also start to build loyalty - which in an industry that is focussed on relationships, can easily impact the bottom line.  

So, what is so important about culture? 

As the world changes around us, so do employee’s requirements and demands. The recruitment industry like others, must keep up with the changing times.  

When I started my career in recruitment we had an 8-7pm working day (Fridays we had a 5:30 finish). We worked hard, loved what we did (speaking personally here) and were rewarded well financially at this point within our career 

However, if I look back to this time there was a clear lack of Senior women within the organisation.   Let alone female leaders that seemed to be ‘doing it all’ i.e. had manged to have a successful career but also a positive work/life balance.  

So, why was this the case? 

We worked within a highly pressured environment, with long working days and it was frowned upon to leave the office early. Remote working wasn’t an option - there was no ‘flexible working’ policy. So, for individuals with families, it appeared to be challenging and do it all 

So where does this start to fall down? 

It didn't seem possible to be a female leader within a recruitment provider or agency. Of course, there were female leaders within the organisation, but after successful sales careers they seemed to move into internally facing roles. However, was this out of choice or was this due to inflexibility and it being the only option to remain within the business? 

The long hours culture seemed to be the common denominator which stopped many operating in customer facing positions. Outside of this, there were only a few female Managing Directors in a business with thousands of UK employees. With a lack of female role models, it didn’t send out an aspirational message to females within the business that you could build a career within the organisation, regardless of your personal circumstances.  

The individuals that would have been my peers now either left the industry to pursue other careers, move ‘in house’, or set up on their own business. All options that clearly seemed to accommodate changes in personal circumstances better As a direct result, this has contributed to the Missing Middle’ in recruitment.  

What can be done to overcome this? 

Within the larger providers it is clear things are shifting towards having a more diverse workforce. However, an equal workforce in recruitment at a senior level will no doubt take years to reach. 

Whilst it has been proven that organisations that serve a diverse population or audience can more adequately serve their markets when employees can relate to their customers, recruitment providers need to start looking at the current consequences this gap may create from a commercial perspective. This applies to all industries experiencing the same challenge.  

Yes, there may be a new way of working starting to emerge within our own sector, but we are also experiencing a talent shortage, where like many other industries the demand for good people remains high.  

However, organisations providing flexibility, formal career development, ‘returnships and succession planning will help grow and build their talent pools. Whilst changes in working practice will help accommodate the life / work balance that many employees now desire (and others need), it has to be something workable for all. 

Having been in Executive Search / Interim Management for well over a decade now, this is my career.

To ensure you build diversity across all levels of the organisation, my advice is to build passion within your employeesinvest in development and make your organisation an attractive place to work for all 

Whatever changes may happen in my personal life, I believe this is a role where I can truly make impact to both our industry and others. hopefully by inspiring others and ensuring provider recruitment Is able to for all.

I would be keen to hear your perspective on this, so please leave a comment below. Alternatively, you can contact me directly at lucy.bielby@eoexecutives.com

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