Shaping the female recruitment industry leaders of the future

Authored By Aneliese Hynes

While the recruitment industry has made massive strides from the boys’ club mentality, which used to dominate, championing gender diversity remains an ongoing issue. According to research from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), which looked into pay and benefits in the recruitment sector, male managers still earn more than women, with an average gender pay gap of 10 per cent. At consultant level, men are also better off, earning on average £5,589 ($10,661 AUD) more than women, with an average gender pay gap of 14 per cent.

It is impossible to question the deluge of statistics showing the importance of a diverse workforce, but stats alone aren’t enough to create change. Only through industry champions and vocal networks, will we make significant improvements.

At a recent, Women in Leadership Breakfast, hosted by Bullhorn in Sydney, women took the opportunity to share their experiences and brainstorm solutions on how the recruitment industry can help support the female leaders of the future. Angela Anasis, Executive General Manager at Randstad, and Kelly Van Nelson, Managing Director at Adecco, led the group of industry professionals in a morning of productive discussions.

Here are some of the challenges they discussed along with suggestions on how to overcome them.

Voicing leadership aspirations

At the breakfast, Kelly Van Nelson emphasised that women shouldn’t be afraid to voice their leadership aspirations. “When applying for internal roles, women tend to think that they have to have 10 out of the 10 strengths included in the job spec, whereas men will go for it if they think that they have 5 of the 10 qualifications,” she stated, “we need to encourage women to go for those same roles even if it is just 8 out of 10, or 6 out of 10.”

Internally, she noted, managers must offer opportunities to staff by talking to them about their career paths. It is essential to let employees have the time they need to build the confidence to speak to managers about their career aspirations. By inquiring about employee’s interest in the leadership path, managers provide opportunities which may otherwise go overlooked.

Managers should also encourage their team to get involved in projects across the company. Being part of the broader business exposes them to different parts of the organisation, and can often unearth hidden talents.

Angela Anasis also said that knowing when to take a step back and wait for the right opportunity requires confidence, but is worth doing. “Have the courage to speak up, but if you’re not ready, buy some time – there’s always tomorrow.”

Vulnerability and authenticity

All of the speakers agreed that vulnerability is key to having authenticity in the workplace. Trust is a prerequisite for authenticity to come through, and everyone benefits when team members treat each other with openness and honesty.

The speakers also touched on the ability for vulnerability to humanise the workplace. Recruitment is a high-performance environment, and it is essential to make sure that everyone is comfortable so they can do their best work.

“As women, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to succeed,” Anasis observed, “but we shouldn’t be afraid of trial and failure”. The best way to try new things, she says, is to “start small - take risks, but mitigate them by assessing your situation.” As Van Nelson put it, “Be authentic for yourself. Take those risks and have a go.”

Beating imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome was another major issue discussed at the breakfast. Imposter syndrome is a type of self-doubt where you believe yourself to be unqualified for your position. And is particularly common among female leaders. In fact, it is not unusual for any individual who is different to the majority of a group to feel illegitimate, no matter how well qualified or accomplished they are.

One of the first steps to combatting imposter syndrome is realising that the feeling is normal, and that many of those we look up to feel like imposters too.

Another tip is to keep a record of your achievements to refer to when you feel inadequate.

Allow yourself similar leeway to make mistakes when taking on a new role and don’t be afraid to accept that there will be a period of learning.

Navigating difficult conversations

Both Anasis and Van Nelson offered advice on handling difficult conversations, particularly surrounding promotions and pay. They emphasised the importance of having open discussions with team members at all levels.

Management has the biggest role to play in empowering female employees to have these conversations confidently. Leadership is critical – senior managers need to drive openness across the business to allow their team to have honest conversations

On an individual level too, discussion should be honest, forthright and with a win-win outcome. Before stepping into a meeting to discuss pay, know specifically what you want, and why it is in the company’s interest to give it to you. It often helps to plan the conversation in advance, for both effectiveness and confidence.

Finding a mentor

Anasis and Van Nelson agreed on the importance of mentors for both professional and personal development.

Finding a mentor usually takes one of two paths. An organic relationship can develop with a superior you admire, or you can formalise the relationship by asking someone to mentor you. In these cases, you must be clear on what you want and drive the relationship consistently with follow-ups and communication. In either case, some level of formalisation is vital to establish boundaries and expectations.

At a consultant level, it is essential to put yourself out there at industry events and talks. Be clear on what you’re looking to improve and build relationships accordingly.

Take the leap of faith

Two pieces of advice from Anasis and Van Nelson really resonated: “believe in yourself, work on your strengths, find your confidence face, grab opportunities, don’t be fearful, and don’t be afraid of failure.”

“Take your courage, start small and give things a try. Most importantly, have confidence in yourself.”