The investment industry needs to do more to recruit senior women: Here’s how

Wednesday 4 May 2022


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Author: Mark Freed

There are several things the investment industry can be doing better if it wants to attract more senior women into its ranks, says Mark Freed.

It’s not surprising that the investment industry is struggling to meet its commitments to gender equality, inclusion and equity when it has not significantly changed the way it recruits experienced and senior hires.   

Most firms will need the proportion of women recruited into leadership/ management roles to exceed 50% if they are going to meet their various gender diversity commitments.   

For companies that are serious about meeting their diversity commitments there are only two strategies that are likely to work. First, they must promote women into leadership and management positions. Second, they must recruit women into these roles.  

Recruitment is the fastest of these options, and in the short term, the one that is likely to yield the strongest results for many companies.  

In many firms, recruitment is a well-oiled machine capable of turning out candidates at low cost and in good time.  Unfortunately, this machine isn’t anywhere near as effective for sourcing diverse candidates for middle and higher-level roles.   The usual diversity recruitment approaches are often counterproductive and simply tinkering with this process.  For example, I don’t see how blind C.V.’s help a manager who is eager to find a diverse candidate.  If a manager is so biased perhaps he needs help and training, not blind C.V.’s.   The other things that I see is a demand for diverse shortlists / the implementation of targets. Whilst these can be useful, unless we change the way we source candidates and the priority we give to finding diverse ones, we often end up with candidates who are there simply to make up the numbers. I hear recruiters telling be every day that I need a woman to make my targets.   

If people continue doing the same old things, they will get the same old results – which is something we think the evidence of recent years clearly shows. As a diversity recruitment firm this is what we see as best practice recruitment strategy, designed to ensure that firms find the best people for senior level vacancies – who just happen to be women. 

How can companies recruit more women at senior level? Here are our seven key recommendations: 

  1.  Measure everything all the time. It’s a business cliché, but if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it – or improve it.  
  2.  Start with the diverse candidates. All too often, diversity is left until some asks about it or there’s a target to meet. By then, it is too late. Diverse candidates take longer to find, so make sure you have three great ones before looking for other candidates.
  3. Make sure you have the budget to do it properly. Diverse candidates are less likely to come to you or be found in the ‘usual places’. You need to search for them and that is going to cost. Allocate a budget.
  4. Work with an expert. Use credible and established recruitment/search firms that specialise in diverse candidates. They will often have invested in building a large community of women working in the sector to whom they have privileged access. 
  5. Make your offering resonate. All too often, when you ask a firm why women should work for them you get a list of worthy initiatives – creches, flexible working, active women’s network – that do not resonate with senior-level women. They want to know about corporate culture, behaviours and values. They want know that you understand their needs and aspirations and are committed to helping them realise them and remove any barriers that are in the way.
  6. Think about the experience you’re asking for. Make sure you leave your requirements open enough that you don’t miss out on highly skilled candidates just because they feel they don’t exactly match what you’ve said you want. This includes making clear that you have an awareness of transferable skills. It’s easy to replace ‘John’ with another John, but not always the best solution for the team.
  7. Implement processes to stamp out hiring from the old boy’s network. The industry managed this with graduate hiring and internships, it’s about time they did it at senior level. 

We have heard it said that the problem will not be solved by recruiting women from other firms. More often than not, the people saying this have become managers and leaders by making frequent planned career moves. They are clearly aware that an active job market enables the best to rise to the top and creates a vibrant and competitive industry. However, it’s possible they have noticed that women in senior roles follow a different recruitment approach to men – and are less likely to search actively for roles unless they have decided they definitely want to make a move. In our experience, well over 50% of the female candidates that we put forward for roles were not actively looking for a new position when we approached them. 

If firms are serious about gender equality and meeting their commitments, then they need to think seriously about the way they recruit at experienced and senior levels.  The solutions above are not radical, they are obvious and simple.  Firms need to start implementing them. 

Mark Freed, Chief Executive, E2W. 


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