Women are under-represented in the senior executive ranks of most businesses worldwide. According to a McKinsey report this year, only three of the G20 countries had 30% or more women on corporate boards or executive committees.
The reasons why vary by jurisdiction. At one end of the scale, notably in Europe, representation is significantly supported by culture and/or quotas. At the other end, without the whip of the law, the percentages of women in leadership roles drops by half.
Chile is in the second group. There is a “presidential mandate” in place but not binding. So when civic leaders such as Alejandra Aranda see her country in 119th place among 144 nations on this issue, she is concerned.
“Chile ranks 70th on average in the World Economic Forum,” she says. “But we drop to 119th in the Gender Gap Index because of under-representation of women in decision-making positions.”
Aranda is co-founder and president of Humanitas Executive Search, an executive search company and the member firm in Santiago of Cornerstone International Group. Cornerstone has 63 members in 35 countries and Aranda is influential in a core group driving gender diversity.
“Executive recruiters are in an excellent position to support workplace diversity of any kind,” she says, “This is particularly true concerning women leadership. We can move the goalposts.”
Most studies point to a lack of awareness in the executive suite as a principal cause of the gender imbalance. In the U.S., for example the percentage of male and female is almost balanced (52% male) at entry level. By managerial level, that has widened to 63%-37%.
The executive recruiter has an opportunity to address this. They can make sure that any qualified women earn a place on the longlist. Advice on succession plans should be gender-neutral. And the recruiter can give support and guidance to candidates.
Aranda drove home these points in striking fashion a few weeks ago, when she was approached by Gender Parity Initiative of the World Economic Forum to participate in a Code of Good Practice.
Being a Council Member of AESC – the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants, which is the global authority of the sector – she resolved that this should be an industry initiative. She persuaded all eight of her top competitors in Chile to participate in signing a 10-point Code of Good Practice on Gender Diversity Management for executive search firms.
The ceremonial signing was attended by Karen Greenbaum, CEO of AESC.
“The more you think about it, the clearer it becomes just how important a role our industry can play,” says Aranda. “In retained search, we know the top people at our client firms and they trust us.
“Who better to set the record straight on the business value of gender diversity in leadership.”