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I've relocated my blog to the following URL:
Please feel free to visit, to comment, and to continue the conversation . . .
This year, women become the majority in the workforce for the first time in American history. It is 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. (Do I have your attention yet?)
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 suggests 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 amirror 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 under way. 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.
The domination is also being expressed in gender selection at fertility clinics. Based on anecdotal evidence, parents seeking assistance in getting pregnant are choosing girls over boys three-fourths of the time. While that particular fact and the idea of women's collective rise to power may be shocking to some, it is yesterday's news to my teenage daughter and others her age raised on a steady diet of girl power videos from artists that include Beyonce who tours with an all-female band. In song after song (Irreplaceable, If I Were a Boy, and her earlier Destiny Child's Survivor), she conveys that rather than being worthless or worth less than men, we of the female persuasion are actually worth something -- at the very least, a ring.
Beyonce's Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) begat a flash mob in Piccadilly Circus in London . . .
. . . and morphed into a gay power subplot on the Fox show Glee . . .
. . . which begat SNL's rendition.
If Justin Timberlake feels secure enough in his manhood to don a leotard and high heels in a Single Ladies send-up, then perhaps we have, indeed, arrived. However, the major retained search firms yet to come to that realization when you examine the percentage of women they employ. I actually stopped and counted the women listed at each of the U.S. offices. The unofficial tally is as follows:
Despite the paucity of women in top leadership roles, the retained search industry hates, hates, 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. 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 paticular 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, which is why President Obama rarely goes there. 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 get a male colleague's slice of pie -- the pie actually grows. That fact alone ought to be enough to inspire even the most serious among us to break out in dance. Of course, Ms. B is going to help us do it in style. To learn the Single Ladies dance, simply study her dance routine below, slowed to half time.
Imagine that an executive search that you've been conducting hits the wall. The CEO or Hiring Executive calls you in for a full accounting. You walk into the office. He closed the door behind you. In that very moment, you become painfully aware that your job and your reputation are on the line. He gives you the third degree. With each subsequent question, you get smaller, and smaller, and smaller until you completely disappear . . .
The CEO asks:
If "I don't know" is the first answer that springs to mind in response to most of the above questions, then you and your searches are at risk. Quite simply, they lack due diligence. In fact, when I think the words "I don't know" in my head, I hear Bill Cosby's voice impersonating a young child as he lampoons his children's frequent use of the phrase.
You must be able to justify your recruiting work from a strategic perspective. You cannot simply detail how busy you've been or how hard you've worked. You must think strategically about how you would answer the above questions and then manage your searches accordingly. You must "nail down" the facts as you know them. To offer due diligence, you must aspire to map candidates at each of your primary target companies to determine how many you have identified and how many you have left to surface.
I'm presenting training webinar on this topic this coming Wednesday July 14th Recruiting Smarter: Search as Investigation. (The training is free because Dice is sponsoring the virtual event with their friends at HR.com.)
Oscar Wilde noted more than a century ago that "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life". And thus, it should come as no surprise that there are lessons to be learned about executive search when viewed through the lens of the burlesque. Burlesque is defined as humorous theatrical entertainment involving parody, grotesque exaggeration -- and, yes, even striptease. So what is a discussion about burlesque doing in a blog about recruiting? Stay with me.
My teenage daughter watched the movie Chicago for the first time. For me, it was the umpteenth, but I was taken by how many of its bawdy observations applied to the world of executive search. The song Mr. Cellophane could be just as much as song about a candidate struggling to be noticed, as it is about the character Amos Hart (John C. Reilly) who is the husband of Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), a woman who hopes to break into vaudeville, and gets there after killing her boyfriend and hiring lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). She teams up with Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who killed her cheating husband to become a vaudeville act.
Shoulda been my name
'Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there...
Frequently, I am approached by Mr. or Ms. Cellophane trying desperately to be seen and heard. While I try to help and while I have pro bono efforts to that end, I am not a personal career coach or agent. I am paid by very powerful client corporations to find the ideal candidate for a specific role or opening. That said, I regularly foster relationships with select executives who are counted among industry's best and brightest - luminaries and up-and-coming stars. However, what's a candidate to do if he or she isn't counted among the rock stars in the 99th percentile? What's the best way to to get on my radar screen? Again, there's a lesson to be learned from burlesque.
Executives and technologists regularly call executive search consultants asking for help to in finding their next opportunity. However, calling up and asking a complete stranger to do you a favor is not the best way to make a good first impression. That kind of initial "how-dee-do" can make you sound needy and even selfish. As a result, you are practically asking to be rejected.
Networking is not about the get, it is about the give. When you give, you become empowered. The give may be sharing industry insight, making an introduction, or offering to refer business. But when you go there -- when you focus on what you can do for someone instead of what they can do for you -- you will consistently yield better results. You avoid "graspiness", which carries with it a whiff of desperation. I know it is challenging to do when you are, actually, in desperate circumstances. Unemployment has a way of pushing families to the brink of homelessness so very quickly. But still, focusing on the give help get your mojo working again. You put energy out there in the universe that will reap rewards. I have seen it happen, time and again.So be good to Mama, my friends, be very, very good.
As executive search professionals and recruiters, we often encounter names of candidates that may be common to other cultures but our own. We frequently recruit executives, engineers, and other professionals whose names we are forced to pronounce apologetically because we are likely doing so incorrectly. However, there is a better way, one that will establish greater rapport simply because we have taken a moment pronounce a proper name, well . . . properly.
Before founding my execuive search firm The Good Search, I worked as a television news reporter and anchor. Back then, I made sure a treasured reference book could be found within an arms length of my desk in the news room, a pronunciation guide published for broadcasters. As I prepared for the evening's live newscast, I'd look up intimidating, unrecognizeable words that would have been impossible to enunciate correctly without the guide. Still, I regularly confronted unintelligible proper names in news stories that were breaking during the newscast. Fortunately, I never was forced to attempt this:
These days, one can simply dial up the website PronounceNames.com on your browser. You enter whatever person's name has you flummoxed, and the website pronounces the name outloud for you the right way. Voice of America has a similar site. And the AP Stylebook is now online now includes a pronunciation guide that speaks. In the increasingly global world of business, taking the time to show respect by getting it right can make all the difference. That is how one engages luminaries and rock stars.
Which brings to mind something that my husband, a renowned saxophonist, taught me. When a musician plays an incorrect note -- much like mispronouncing a name -- it is referred to as hitting a "clam". When they play several wrong notes in a row, it becomes a "clam bake." If, as Dale Carnegie once said, "The sweetest sound in the world is a person's own name", then let us make music, my friends.
A brilliant technique that an advertising executive used to land a job at Young & Rubicam also can be used by recruiters to land star talent.
If you suspect a luminary executive that you'd like to recruit might Google himself to see what's being written about him, then simply set up a Google Adwords advertisement that displays a message whenever that executive's name is entered as a search term. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
"5. Perform blind, 'reverse,' and company reference checks.
LinkedIn's reference check tool to input a company name and the years the person worked at the company to search for references. Your search will find the people who worked at the company during the same time period. Since references provided by a candidate will generally be glowing, this is a good way to get more balanced data. Companies will typically check your references before hiring you, but have you ever thought of checking your prospective manager's references? Most interviewees don't have the audacity to ask a potential boss for references, but with LinkedIn you have a way to scope her out . . . By the way, if using LinkedIn in these ways becomes a common practice, we're apt to see more truthful resumes. There's nothing more amusing than to find out that the candidate who claims to have caused some huge success was a total bozo who was just along for the ride."
In my last post, I described how the mighty trees that toppled in a recent storm reminded me of how the mighty have fallen. In the wake of our financial crisis, retained search firms have had a comeuppance for charging too much and delivering too little. Score one for the good guys.
Take the two felled trees on my property as a for instance. Let's call one "Egon" and the other "Spencer". Each weighed several tons. They were so heavy, in fact, we had to bring in a massive crane to remove them. But now that they're gone, we have sun where there once was shadow. Quite literally, we have seen the light. And so too have a growing number of employers.
To be honest, trees are a sore subject in my household. My husband Crispin belongs to the just say "no" school of forestry. A year ago, I made the mistake of cutting down a couple of sickly, deformed trees in our backyard and he could barely stand to look at me and did not speak to me for a full three days. (Seriously. I am not making this up.) This year, I wanted cut down the the two trees along our driveway because the third had been "topped" -- effectively ruined -- by an electrical crew, breaking the "plant in threes" rule. I'd rather cut down the trees so that I could invite in the sunshine and more attractive plantings requiring full sun along with it. But I did want to risk another 72-hour-long silent treatment from His Husbandness. Then Mother Nature stepped in and did what I lacked the courage to do. She did a little landscaping of her own. (Thanks, Mom.)
The same thing has happened in search. While employers were growing increasingly frustrated by the high cost and high failure rate (40%) of traditional retained search firms, questioning their market dominance by using lesser known firms was risky business. In an unspoken quid pro quo, top executives often mandated using the very retained firms that placed them. Consequently, no one ever got fired for putting a search out to Korn Ferry or Spencer Stuart or Heidrick because that's what everyone did. There was safety in numbers. So decade after decade, few questioned the enormous fees of retained search firms of up to 33% of first year total cash compensation plus expenses. Few objected to apparent industry-wide price fixing. Few objected when almost every other search came up short.
But necessity is the mother of invention. The recent financial storm has forced the change that so many secretly desired. Suddenly, employers can no longer afford to waste vast sums of money on retained search. So, at long last, they have found the courage to start asking tough questions of their retained search partners and to walk away when they don't like the answers -- shedding light where there once was only darkness. While it frightens retained firms and vampires, sunshine is always a good thing for the good guys. It helps the more innovative firms grow.
A Nor'easter hit my hometown of Westport, Connecticut -- rather, more like a hurricane, with wind gusts exceeding 60 miles per hour. It rendered my town impassible. Downed trees blocked egress on virtually every major and minor thoroughfare. We were without power, cable, television, and phones for a week. Hotels within an hour's drive radius quickly sold out, their rooms filled with displaced victims of the storm and CL&P crews brought in from surrounding states to repair the damage. We felt lucky to find room at a Marriott just 30 miles away, and even luckier that we could stay there the full week while others who did not foresee an extended stay were forced to find shelter elsewhere.
In retrospect it seems an fitting metaphor for our financial crisis, and, in turn, for the crisis experienced by the executive search business, especially retained search firms. The massive trees felled on our property serve as testimony to how swiftly the mighty have fallen.
According to my CPA, the executive search business has always been cyclical. He does the taxes for number of search firms, large and small, retained and contingency. He's noticed these companies are always among the first to get hit in a financial downturn and the among the last to recover. Hiring executives pull back hard on hiring at the the first signs of a slowdown and they often postpone hiring until they're sure a recovery is well underway. Ironically, retained search is always hit the hardest: it seems they have the most to lose.
Experts believe we have witnessed what will remain the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. In fact, many are predicting that the retained executive search business has been forever changed. Companies reduced their use of retained search starting in 2007 and, some say, many learned to live with it quite simply because it is so costly. Traditional retained search charges as much as 33% of a candidate's first year compensation plus expenses. Moreover, nearly half of the time the money's wasted because, according to industry expert David Lord, 40% of all retained searches fail to complete. And it appears, a growing number of corporations have had enough.
Korn Ferry's stock price is still down 30% since before the financial collapse from a high of $26 in June of 2007, dipping to as low as $8; Heidrick & Struggles stock price is down 40% from a high of $51, dipping to as low as $14. Heidrick is now ranked among the bottom five companies in the Human Resource & Employment Services industry as measured by the potential gains between the current stock price and the projected average analyst target.As a result, the major retained search firms have diversified their service offerings to make up for the deficit in search engagement revenues. But the writing is on the wall. An increasing number of employers are breaking with tradition and are turning away from traditional retained search and toward more innovative firms that offer a better return on their investment.
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has written an Op-Ed piece that should give all those involved in talent acquisition pause . There is "actually a critical, but unspoken reason for the Great Recession". That reason has coincided with the mortgage crisis and the subsequent meltdown on Wall Street and in financial markets wrapped around the world. At the same time, Americans were spending more than we ought on houses we couldn't afford, we were not investing in the one thing that could help us maintain our global competitive advantage:education.
In fact, many see our Nation's sub-standard education as the primary reason for the downfall of our global competitiveness. Strategic thinkers with high-end analytical, problem solving skills -- those who invent new ways to old jobs or who create new services or who attract new business -- are fairing far better than highly educated engineers, lawyers, and accountants focused on more routine tasks tasks that increasingly have been outsourced overseas. Consequently, the frightening realization is this: college educated, task-oriented workers will likely never get their jobs back. Those jobs are gone. But there are numerous lucrative jobs that go unfilled with U.S. workers simply because we have refused to grow our own through education -- the immediate case-in-point that springs to mind is that of health care workers.
We've got one segment of our population that is undereducated who either dropped out of high school or did not graduate from college (about 72%) -- -- and another part of our population that needs to be re- college-educated. So while we think about solving the problems that originated with sub-prime mortgage, we have to understand that a sub-prime education helped get us where we are today. From where I sit, the opportunity cost of not investing in an affordable education for all Americans is far greater than the cost of doing the right thing.
I head an executive search firm in Westport, CT, where I live with my husband, saxophonist Crispin Cioe, and my daughter Katharine Cioe.