OPINION | As debate rages on about whether or not we need gender-equity quotas, recruitment processes need to change to ensure the right people are getting into the right roles.

Through my work as an executive recruiter for the financial services industry, I’m privy to what is, and isn’t, happening at the top.

Five years ago, I thought, “Why are we still talking about female quotas?”

The good news is I don’t see companies in financial services actively discriminating against hiring women. In fact, most of the companies I work with complain when there are not enough women on the shortlist. I agree it’s a problem and ask them why the women in their organisation wouldn’t put their hands up.

Women can get roles via merit only if systems are fair and equitable. If the right systems, support and guidance were in place, we wouldn’t need quotas for female representation on boards or for graduate intakes.

A multifaceted problem

In reality, women aren’t getting the roles at the top for a lot of different reasons, it is not one-dimensional. It has to do with systems, mindsets, confidence, networks and stakeholder relationships – just to name a few.

Financial Recruitment Group’s search process usually includes interviewing internal candidates along with the external candidates, and it is annoying when talented women don’t apply for the top roles in their own organisation. So we started to do surveys and found many potential female candidates didn’t feel they ticked enough boxes.

Coming from a background where I had several strong female role models in my childhood and early in my career, I couldn’t understand what the problem was. I never thought about myself as a gender in the work environment, but as a business person and how do I get from A to B.

It turns out the problem is multifaceted. Over the years, I’ve observed that women don’t tend to develop the same types of networks as men do, and this makes a big difference as you progress up the ladder.

Good stakeholder relationships are crucial as we progress in our careers. Women tend to work hard at their jobs but they don’t work on the strategy of getting to the next stage. Mentoring can help encourage more women to put their hands up for senior roles.

Also, headhunting women is different, as they often will not explore the opportunity and close down the conversation before hearing about what it is. I don’t accept their excuses anymore, because I have been around a long time and I will get them to the table, but it shouldn’t be so hard. There are differences between men and women, but I don’t think it is because of differences in our DNA. I think it’s more about systems, structure and guidance.

Aim to change structure and systems

This is why I founded Financial Executive Women (FEW), which is now in its fourth year.

FEW has some of Australia’s largest organisations among its corporate sponsors and we are growing rapidly. Changing structure and systems by providing the right experience, guidance and support is what makes the difference. FEW provides several avenues for members to get advice day to day or through structured advocate programs, in which the member is paired with someone more senior who will guide her for 12 months.

We have launched several new programs this year to help members get the business support they need, so they are on an even playing field with their male counterparts. We have an initiative called the Circle@10 and Circle@2. Members meet at our corporate sponsors’ offices quarterly and have the opportunity to ask questions in a confidential environment with other senior women. The Circle@10 is for future leaders, to help them with all those questions we need answered early in our career.

Our goal is to focus on what it takes to advance and the skills required to be a leader, regardless of your gender. We are starting to see good results and feedback from members tells us that the industry should have done this years ago.

Once the field is even, then let the merit apply.

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