Can You Reach and Maintain Gender Parity in Your Executive Team?

Is parity in the workplace an organisational objective for you? If so, you may want to start by looking at the ways in which you source, attract and hire your leading female executives. With many global organisations now having great difficulty attracting and retaining female candidates, you should consider how your corporate culture introduces them to the challenges of the position, and supports them through the highs and lows of their career.

Recent research suggests that many female managers, both with and without children fail to reach their full potential and eventually ‘plateau’ in their job/sector[1](Valian, 2011). Although they enter the job market as eager and ambitious graduates, their subsequent careers soon begin to exemplify the cumulative gender disadvantage through lower pay (from first appointment), lack of progression, appropriate role models, supportive management styles and well-defined career paths. Operating within a corporate culture which has often been perceived as a highly competitive and exclusive ‘men’s club’, they can easily become eclipsed by their male counterparts and lose their initial hard-won confidence gained from third level study. Constantly striving for perfection, women can be inclined to turn off and question their own ambitions. When this starts, options of self-employment, breaks from the workplace and alternative roles in other organisations become more appealing and the female brain drain begins.

The feeling of being a ‘fraud’ in a professional environment despite being adequately experienced, is something which many male and female professionals experience within the workplace.  Commonly referred to as Imposter Syndrome, this feeling of unease or inadequacy is a persistent feeling among many high-level executives. In fact, in a Harvard Business Study (, 98% of Fortune 500 CEO’s reported that they still felt imposter syndrome, despite holding the top job within their organisation. This is especially pertinent with rising female executives and is reinforced by the absence of peer support, positive management feedback, lack of sponsorship or mentoring. In this climate, where flexibility is perceived as incompatible with a management career, women often see limited returns in progressing further up the corporate ladder – particularly if they wish to have a life outside work, which may include family commitments.

In the last year alone, over 46% of our placements were women, so we at SRI Executive, know intuitively that diversity matters. It’s also increasingly clear that it makes sense in purely business terms. With current research suggesting that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. More diverse companies, we believe, are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, which in turn leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.

According to research carried out by McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.(

Providing a sustainable solution to women’s absence from the organisational hierarchy, SRI Executive proposes a comprehensive talent management approach, covering the following four areas:

  1. Commitment: Demonstrate top-down commitment by CEO and Directors with strategic plan/mission/vision incorporating gender equality as a core value, with targets to be reached – monitor and respond to progress; and talk about it

Working in partnership with our clients and candidates to drive social inclusion, integration and sustainability, worldwide, we understand the importance of a culturally diverse, distinct and global perspective. Developing a corporate culture which seeks to inspire, we at SRI Executive place gender and diversity at the heart of our organisation. With a team in which 80% of whom are female and 60% from the developing world, we at SRI are truly dedicated to influencing change on a global scale. Celebrating difference through diverse backgrounds, identity, ideas and beliefs, we create a space which encourages collaboration and ingenuity. Believing that by promoting a diverse perspective, you foster an environment which stimulates growth, we at SRI Executive genuinely instil this philosophy not only in her own organisation, but in the services we provide.

In the last year alone, our commitment to gender and diversity has produced statistics which are above the norm for Executive Search. We reached 48% female representation in 2015 for our long and short lists and this is due to our own commitment and focus on diversity, and our ability to attract leading females executives.

  1. Diversity: Appoint and promote more diverse role model Senior Managers – aiming for a target of 30% critical mass, over a realistic timescale

 Critical data regarding gender distribution should be reviewed, and in collaboration with line managers, desirable yet realistic targets should be agreed upon. The existing criteria for selection is then revisited for future vacancies in order to add flexibility to the inclusion of women in various professional categories.  The aim is to allow for a fair assessment of abilities and key soft skills, while balancing the often extensive number of years of experience required which may tend to disqualify women with high potential.

To identify suitable female candidates for an opportunity, SRI Executive draws on our extensive and established network of thought leaders and senior officials within the specific sector. When combined with our industry knowledge, consultant expertise and client perspectives, it gives us a unique insight into the target market and potential candidates.

 To assist female candidates in preparing for interview, our skilled consultants are also able to deliver world-class interview training, helping middle to senior-level executives present themselves appropriately at interview and showcase their skills. Our specially tailored Executive Interview Training Programme provides our candidates with the tools required to make executive-level interviews less stressful and more beneficial. 

  1. Support: Provide specific Leadership Programmes and networks for women for peer-to-peer support, mentoring and development

 Underrepresented at every level within the corporate structure, women’s visibility and developmental capability within many global organisations is somewhat absent. This is particularly apparent at senior levels of leadership. For this, SRI Executive offers executive coaching, as an essential tool for achieving maximum success. Our coaches have many years of successful, on-the-ground experience in the corporate, academic, international development and private sector that equates to proven, hands on expertise and practical thinking about how to inspire women to reach new goals.

A small firm feel with a global reach, SRI Executive encompasses the authentic, personalised approach which makes our clients feel valued. With a highly skilled global network or professionals based across Europe, The Americas, Africa and Asia, we understand the culture, ethos and values of your organisation. As our focus is an organisation’s key assets – its people – both as individuals and as team members, we prioritise their aims and objectives. Our coaches use a warm, empathetic and approachable style that enables them to facilitate individual achievement and unleash hidden potential. Unlike training or mentoring, where individuals are taught ‘how to do things better’, coaching supports the process of finding one’s own solution. By working closely with our executives, we get to know them on both a professional and personal level, which allows us to gain true insight and offer authentic and meaningful advice.

At times, female managers can require mentoring as they navigate the required strategic changes within an organisation. The top mentors maintain unconditional positive regard for the candidate and help her to establish “thinking space” and confidence, which enables them to give their best performance and achieve their career and business goals. This mentoring relationship is most successful when the experience of the mentor merges with the new ideas of the mentee, finding the driver in them which allows them to access their full potential. When working with leading female executives, we are very careful not to confuse coaching with mentoring, and to evaluate the needs of each person, individually.

  1. Development: Ensure that Managers all levels develop their ‘people skills’ and are equipped to encourage staff to take up WLB options and stay on a career path – 360-degree evaluation:

Growing and developing the capability of the people within an organisation ultimately grows and develops organisational capability. One of the tools we use in Leadership Development is 360-degree feedback, also known as multi-rate feedback, multi-source feedback, or multi-source assessment. Most often, 360-degree feedback will include direct feedback from an employee’s subordinates, peers and supervisor(s), as well as a self-evaluation. We work with the supervisor and the employee to construct the most appropriate feedback group. It can also include, in some cases, feedback from external sources, such as customers and suppliers or other interested stakeholders. It can be contrasted with ‘upward feedback’, where only their direct reports or a ‘traditional performance appraisal process’ gives manager’s feedback.

For More information about SRI Executive and our approach to Parity in the Workplace, Contact: Ms. Ciana Doyle on +35316675008 or email [email protected]

To be included on SRI Executive’s regular distribution of Thought Leadership Papers on Excelling in the Workplace, Email: Ms. Ciana Doyle on [email protected]

[1] Valian, V, “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of it” Random House, 2011. Print.