Richard Wajs is the president and CEO of TWC International Executive Search Ltd. He has been performing assignments for Board, C-Level and Senior Management positions across the globe for more than 20 years.
For several years now, we have been hearing about the difficulty that companies, both publicly traded and privately held, and most recently in technology and other male-dominated sectors, claim to have in terms of identifying and recruiting female leaders to their boards and senior management ranks.
As a person who actually recruits leaders for a living, I believe that it is the time to call out this myth; in fact, there is no shortage of highly capable women who are ready to take on senior roles in the technology and other sectors of our economy. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of excuses relating to this inability to identify and recruit them either.
The most oft-repeated corporate excuse is that there is a dearth of qualified female talent in the market; therefore it's not possible to hire such individuals. Other companies, when announcing the appointment of senior women to their boards or executive, often recruit candidates from only a limited talent pool; these are often persons who are viewed by the proverbial old boys' (and girls!) club of Corporate Canada to be "safe" candidates. They are those few female candidates who are well known in corporate circles for having sat on multiple boards for many years.
There clearly exists the real issue of companies unjustifiably passing over or not even considering female candidates for leadership and board roles. As the heralded "MoveTheDial" report illustrates, there exists in our country many outstanding and highly marketable senior female executives. I would argue that those companies claiming to have trouble finding female talent are simply not doing a very good job of identifying them.
It is equally essential that companies, even in their own self-interest, recognize the potential damage that they are doing to themselves by not doing more in this respect. Several studies over the years have shown that companies that do not have a well-balanced gender workforce and leadership team underperform the market in contrast to those companies who have successfully achieved such balance.
Companies that use a shotgun approach to the recruitment of candidates, by employing postings on job boards and social media, or simply expecting that word of mouth referrals will suffice, are doomed to fail. At best, they attract inappropriate candidates and then claim that they've done all that they can.
In contrast, companies that perform the requisite research in order to properly identify candidates are able to bring on viable persons to their organizations. Assistance in this process may be obtained by using dedicated internal and/or external resources, such as an executive search firm.
Why am I so certain that companies are not doing enough in this respect? Because my experience in being able to find exceptional senior-level female talent has been very different than what we are hearing on this issue. We have recently completed a number of board and senior management executive search assignments across Canada for diverse companies in highly male-dominated industry sectors, including in the field of technology, which has recently been cited as a prime example of the gender hiring issue.
In each case, it was made clear to us by the employers (our clients) that they wanted us to identify and produce in our slate of candidates qualified women for these roles. We were able to provide the technology company, Waterloo-based Kognitiv Corporation, with a choice of five outstanding female candidates, and the company is confirming that they will hire at least two, if not three of them.
We are regularly requested to ensure that qualified female candidates are brought forth for consideration in cases where a company's management or board has realized that it lacks a gender balance in its teams.
While it is our responsibility to identify and recruit for our clients the best possible candidates for the role in question regardless of gender or ethnic origin, we consistently are able to include persons of diverse backgrounds in our candidate slates. This is a result of straightforward and thorough research, performed in a highly targeted manner and in alignment with the company's requirements.
Truly every economic sector in Canada has produced these outstanding female leaders. Many of them are moving up the corporate ladder and have taken on key leadership and board roles in a wide variety of corporations.
Employers and their recruiters, both internal and external, can also do more in terms of achieving the goal of bringing on more senior female leadership to their ranks. There are data that illustrate that there is a reluctance on the part of many potential female candidates to put themselves forward for roles if they believe that they do not possess 100 per cent of the requisite criteria as outlined in job descriptions. These data also reveal that male candidates do not share this reluctance to the same degree.
I am speculating here, but this may be a result of past treatment of such candidates over the years in the course of unfair or biased hiring processes. As such, it is essential that recruiters ensure that women are strongly encouraged to confidently apply and instill in them the knowledge that they will be given serious and equal consideration in the hiring process.
The appropriate message to provide to them and to all candidates is that no candidate is ever "perfect" for the role, and that the employer has a progressive hiring process in which all candidates possessing a majority of the requisite skills and experience receive serious consideration.
In fact, in the course of our executive search assignments, we often witness progressive employers making organizational changes and adjustments in the roles of team members because of the skills and experience of new talented hires, thereby ensuring that the strengths of each team member is highlighted and allowed to flourish.
As stated earlier, the above is not to say that things are right in terms of the recruitment of women in the corporate environment. Many highly capable female executives remain passed over or not even adequately considered for senior management and board opportunities. The good news is that the degree of scrutiny over our companies in this respect and the sense of corporate social responsibility continues to improve.
There is a recognition by male-dominated senior management and boards across industry sectors to increase female representation in their ranks. If they are serious about doing so, they will use all appropriate steps to approach the market in order to identify these women. As a result, there is no doubt gender balance can be achieved.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said Kognitiv Corporation had difficulty identifying female candidates.