The charts below are examples, drawn from the UK Sales Universe, comprising 2500 individuals, and show the actual gender breakdown, for different channel segments. The issue becomes more troublesome at senior levels of hiring, where the data shows women are even more under-represented.
Despite years of this challenge being acknowledged, little has changed. Hiring of women Salespeople in the UK has only exceeded the benchmark by 1% on average over the last five years. The picture is no better on the Continent (except for France, which leads EMEA for gender diversity).
This may be partly due to our natural inclination to favour others, who are like us when hiring. Since there are more male decision-makers in business, this could lead inadvertently to gender bias. This is known as the “homophily effect”, a tendency to prefer to associate with people who are like you. Several studies have supplied supporting evidence for this “natural” behaviour.
Given that the demand for women is high but the candidate pool is small, hiring firms (both search firms and their clients) must work harder and think more carefully about their process to attract and secure women.
So, what can we do to help bring female talent to the shortlist? How can we keep them engaged in the process? And what can we do to ensure that they are able to show their capabilities in a way that does not bias one gender over the other?
- Build longer-term relationships with women in the industry: Ideally, you should engage with candidates long before you have a role that might be suited to their skill set. We find that a more consultative and ‘slow burn’ discussion can have more success, where understanding what sort of role might be attractive before you make the approach about a specific role. In part, this might reflect the more risk-averse approach women take to portfolio management (as several studies have shown), being played out in their personal lives, as well as their preference to build relationships in business negotiations.
- Consider why you want gender diversity: what value can women bring to your team and business? Gear your expectations, requirements, and assessment against those criteria. For example, a recent report shows that women hedge fund managers have outperformed men, and attribute this to women being more inclined to ask for and consider other views, encouraging people to speak up, and taking longer to make decisions (Forbes, July 2021).
- Focus on individual motivation: Remember that all candidates, regardless of gender, have different motivations and place different priorities on what makes a role attractive. From a more traditional stance, these might look like more money or a promotion. On the other hand, holistic lifestyle choices may be part of the reason people choose not to move and could be placed higher on the priority list than financial gain or management responsibilities. Understanding what these motivations are and addressing them early in the process is important.
- Introduce a woman interviewer early in the process: Not only will this make a female candidate feel more comfortable, but this also gives the candidate an immediate view of how the client views gender diversity – that they do value and encourage senior female leaders. Having this person mentor or guide the candidate through the interview process could help with a higher likelihood of a potential offer, as well as help build the foundation for a longer-term relationship once the candidate becomes a part of the team.
- Language use: Think about language used around a role, both in terms of any written specification and during the verbal interactions in the interview process. We know there are words that can cause women to feel less interested in potential positions or that their skill set is less suitable e.g., highly competitive, ambitious, confident, tough, etc
- Think carefully about the composition of interview panels: If you do decide to ask candidates to formally present or take part in panel discussions, think about the gender makeup of your panel. Is it as easy for a woman to present to a group of men as it is for a man, given that the connection (“these people are like me”) will not necessarily be as immediate? And are the same group likely to assess accurately and objectively if they are also all from similar cultural backgrounds?
- Ensure pay parity: Pay gaps can still persist between men and women, and there are many reasons cited for this imbalance (a topic for another article!). It is up to us as Executive Search firms, alongside our clients, to ensure that irrespective of the gender of the hire, the pay is fair and related to the role requirements and experience that the candidate brings. Put more bluntly, if the hire is female, she should be paid what a man would be paid if they were going into the same role with the same capability irrespective of their current pay. Resist the temptation of just paying an uplift on the existing remuneration, which will perpetuate pay gaps; and, instead, pay the market rate. In some states of the US, it is illegal to ask women candidates their current remuneration for this reason.
We know that hiring the right people in terms of skill set and culture fit is time-consuming and hard to get right, and hiring women is even more challenging given the relative scarcity of experience. However, we all need to continue to think and talk about the value of gender diversity and how we can all improve to close the gender gap in Asset Management.
At Godliman we strive to help our clients meet their own diversity targets and we organise ourselves to attract diversity in our own workforce. Take the first step today!