Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
October 6, 2023

Where are the women leaders?

A few months ago, I started work at Spencer Stuart in Switzerland. Although I’ve had my share of first days in a new role, the mix of excitement and professional pride, tinged with some nerves, was the same as when I began my first job for Hewlett Packard in Italy in the early 2000s.

As so often happens with new jobs, these first few weeks have flown by. But amidst the blur of activity which accompanies the start of any fresh role, one thing in particular has stood out...

Since starting work in our Technology, Media, Telecommunications & Services Practice, no day has passed without someone contacting me to discuss leadership, their career ambitions or me simply receiving someone’s CV. This is to be expected — we work in executive search — and I love getting to know so many leaders, but what is notable is that in the first three months, all of them have been from men. Not a single woman has reached out to me. Not one.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s great that so many high-quality male leaders have been getting in touch — please keep it up! But I can’t help but wonder why their female counterparts have (so far) been absent. It’s not like there aren’t many of them out there.

With equality mandated by the Swiss constitution, Spencer Stuart’s most recent Switzerland Board Index has shown that women now make up 33% of boards, a 22% increase from 2021. The same trend is occurring on executive committees, too, where women now have 17% of the seats. Although this is a 55% increase from 2021, it remains a small number, which is also perhaps a clue as to why so few women have gotten in touch.

Diversity delivers

So why the CV no-show? A reluctance to put their hand up? An unwillingness to promote themselves? Too busy? Not aware of the workings of executive search? Maybe it’s a combination of all these factors and more, but the fact remains that senior women executives are missing out on the chance to move on and gain fresh experiences.

Of course, they may have opportunities to stay put in a place where they already have a track record, sponsors, mentors and so on. But it’s important to remember that workforces becoming more diverse matters — for both the women themselves and their potential employers.

As my colleague, Veena Marr, has pointed out, diversity of approaches and points of view help fuel high performance. Diverse teams develop new ways to solve problems, communicate, identify other needs, create new products, and offer up a mix of skills and experiences, which is vital in avoiding groupthink. And you don’t have to take my word for it either. Companies with strong gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors.

No wonder every client I have spoken with over the past few months has told me that they understand the value of diversity of every kind — including in their top team. Indeed, this may be why they are fiercely holding on to the women in their top teams, the women who are not getting in touch with their CVs. But certainly, across all sectors, our clients consistently ask us to provide them with diverse candidates to choose from — this is now a pre-requisite. So the opportunities are out there for the more adventurous executives willing to seek out new pastures.

And this goes for Spencer Stuart, too. The good news, and one that I see in evidence every day I am in our office, is that we more than walk the talk: our Swiss team is made up of more women than men, with 12 nationalities, speaking 14 languages.

Women, please get in touch

So here’s what I want to happen. I want more high potential, senior and aspiring women to make themselves known to us. I want to sit down with them and discuss their ambitions, their leadership style and experience, their motivation, and how they think about changes taking place in their sector.

Although I work in our Technology, Media, Telecommunications, and Services Practice, it doesn’t matter what industries they work in. I’ll be delighted to share their details with my colleagues in our other practice areas if they come from different sectors.

So I ask you readers of this blog, share my plea, my open door, with every good female leader you might know. Maybe they are looking for a promotion, a fresh start, if their experience can be put to good use in a different or bigger scope. Perhaps they want to discuss how to raise the game of their leadership or how to expand the diversity beyond themselves within their own team. Maybe their perfect opportunity is being discussed right now.

The challenge I have set myself is to do an interview a day with a woman leader for six months, and I will share my insights from these conversations monthly with my LinkedIn network.

It’s tempting to say that this mission has been fuelled by being a mother of two daughters. Yes, of course, I want them to grow up in a world free of barriers to their potential success and where they feel comfortable raising their hand. But it shouldn’t matter if you’re a parent or not. We’ve all got a stake in this journey. We all stand to benefit if a workforce reflects the society it serves.

Who do you think should be on our radar?