Retained Search Industry Patriarchy

The retained search industry patriarchy remained in power at the leading retained search firms around the world. Yes, gender bias is alive and well at the largest and most powerful global executive recruiting firms. That raises the question: if the retained search industry patriarchy refuses to address gender inequality within its own ranks, how can it possibly help large large corporate clients become more gender diverse.  We stopped and counted the women listed at each of the U.S. offices in 2010.

Retained Search Industry Patriarchy By Search Firm

The unofficial tally is as follows:

  • Korn Ferry: Senior Leadership: 20% women – 3 of 15, U.S. Consultants: 24% women – 75 of 311
  • Heidrick: Senior Leadership: 16% women – 1 of 6, U.S. Consultants: 25% women – 46 of 184
  • SpencerStuart: Senior Leadership: 0% women – 0 in 7, U.S. Consultants: 38% women – 54 of 141
  • Russell Reynolds Senior Leadership: 0% women – 0 of 1*, U.S. Consultants: 39% women – 41 of 108

Retained Search Industry Patriarchy Keeps Women Down

Despite the paucity of women in top leadership roles, the retained search industry hates to discuss sexism as if closing its eyes to gender bias will make it all go away. It is the same kind of wishful thinking practiced by a toddler who thinks covering his eyes with his hands makes him invisible. Some contend the old boys that remain of the Old Boys’ Network are Masters of Denial, an impulse rooted their privileged white male DNA.

The retained search industry emerged in the 1950s as firms spun off from professional services companies. Gardner Heidrick and John Struggles were both veterans of the management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. Spencer Stuart worked for them for a year before leaving to found his own search firm. Lester Korn and Richard Ferry met at accounting company Peat, Marwick, Mitchell. Russell Reynolds worked for a time for William Clark, a firm that had been spun off from another accounting firm Price Waterhouse. Sid Boyden was ahead of all of them, founding his firm in 1946. However, in the decades since their founding, not a single firm has chosen to name a woman as their CEO. That particular glass ceiling has yet to shatter, mirroring the vast majority of the Fortune 500 firms that they serve.

Understandably, gender bias has long been topic that most people would rather not discuss. Most of us prefer to focus on the positive because sexism, like any other kind of “ism”, is such a bummer. Besides, people get all squirmy and uncomfortable in much the same way people don’t like to talk about race. However, the bias now appears to be getting turned on its head. Whatever was working against women now appears to be working for us as a gender. More important, it appears to be working for our society as a whole. It isn’t that women benefit: we all benefit. The End of Men article by Hanna Rosin goes on to point out:

Up to a point, the reasons behind this shift are obvious. As thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as the keys to economic success, those societies that take advantage of the talents of all their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest.  With few exceptions, the greater the power of women, the greater the country’s economic success.

In other words, countries where women are on the rise simply make more money. (Do I have your attention yet??) That capitalistic truth should be reason enough to pursue gender neutrality within our own ranks, and to inspire us to help our clients usher deserving, hardworking women up into middle and upper management where they have yet to enjoy their fair share. The reason is as simple. To quote a campaign slogan of former Bill Clinton, “It’s the economy, stupid.” The End of Men, as a thesis, simply means that whenever a woman advances and gets more, it’s not that she gets a male colleague’s slice of pie — the pie actually grows.

In 2010, women became the majority in the workforce for the first time in American history.  In the article Women Now a Majority in American Workplaces, The New York Times reported, “For the first time in recorded history, women outnumber men on the nation’s payrolls. This benchmark is bittersweet, as it comes largely at men’s expense. Because men have been losing their jobs faster than women, the downturn has at times been referred to as a “man-cession.”

It was a critical milestone, one that we in executive search ought to pause to consider by reading an intriguing article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “The End of Men”. The reason? 75% of the 8 million jobs lost in the recession were lost by men, as testosterone dominant blue collar and Wall Street jobs have gone the way of the dodo bird. At the same time, men are having a tougher time getting by, women appear to be on the rise. One reason may be that companies that employ woman leaders are simply more profitable.

A 2008 study attempted to quantify the effect of this more-feminine management style. Researchers at Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland analyzed data on the top 1,500 U.S. companies from 1992 to 2006 to determine the relationship between firm performance and female participation in senior management. Firms that had women in top positions performed better . . .”

At a time when excessive risk nearly drove our global economy to its knees, studies also suggest that men may be hormonally inclined to make reckless mistakes. Ironically, women’s hormones — the very chemicals held against us for so long — appear to make us better decision-makers, especially in today’s economy.

Researchers have started looking into the relationship between testosterone and excessive risk, and wondering if groups of men, in some basic hormonal way, spur each other to make reckless decisions. The picture emerging is a mirror image of the traditional gender map: men and markets on the side of the irrational and overemotional, and women on the side of the cool and levelheaded.

In fact, women’s recent majority win in the workforce may be just the beginning because women are graduating in higher numbers from college. “For every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same.” The article goes on to explain the implications:

IF YOU REALLY want to see where the world is headed, of course, looking at the current workforce can get you only so far. To see the future—of the workforce, the economy, and the culture—you need to spend some time at America’s colleges and professional schools, where a quiet revolution is underway. More than ever, college is the gateway to economic success, a necessary precondition for moving into the upper-middle class—and increasingly even the middle class. It’s this broad, striving middle class that defines our society. And demographically, we can see with absolute clarity that in the coming decades the middle class will be dominated by women.


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