Working Women: Overcoming Barriers to Promotion

women-promotionsDespite the fact that 75% of women said that more changes are needed to achieve workplace gender equity, most are not associating their beliefs to their own workplace situations. A poll was taken from a LinkedIn group of about 1,800 professional women, who were asked “Does it matter what gender your boss is?” The results were staggering; 67 per% claimed that their manager’s sex does not matter, 23% acknowledged that they prefer a male boss, and only 5% preferred working for a woman.4 It seems then, that the solution to overcoming this gender gap has to stem from a shift in mindset rather than implementing new programs or initiatives (such as quotas or hiring practices). The goal of such an initiative is noteworthy for corporations wanting to stay ahead– businesses who achieve a healthy balance of gender diversity place at the top of the competition.

The most difficult aspect, however, is finding lasting solutions. Perhaps we can look to Deloitte, a leader in gender diversity, for overcoming this issue. The company has already saved millions in turnover costs, and their latest solution includes holding “Inclusion Labs” across their offices worldwide. These labs are one-day sessions, which were founded at the Leadership Centre for Inclusion at Deloitte University in Texas. The Inclusion Labs were first created in March 2013 to help clients define their diversity and inclusion issues and solve other relatable challenges. Each day includes many small group discussions, including participation by individuals. Topics of discussion include issues such as barriers to promotion, deeply held and subconscious biases, and stereotypes of both genders in the workforce. The sessions are also accountability exercises. “Becoming aware of those diversity metrics is a real eye opener,” says Deloitte partner Jane Allen, former Chief Diversity Officer in Toronto. “You might say men and women are treated equally, but when you look at the data, the gaps in the metrics are much more than you thought they’d be.”2 At the end of the session, each client is given a detailed report with an action plan for change.

Coming from an executive director of 10 years and mother of three, Melissa Kushner gives two points of advice for all working women. First of all, use your gender to your advantage. Men and women run organizations differently, and both can learn from each other’s unique styles. Embracing the unique perspectives you can bring to a company is a precious asset. Second, she states it’s vital to accept your individual strengths and weaknesses. A common discussion in the workplace, she points out, is the point about whether women should be as aggressive as men. Melissa advises that people in general can evolve through their experiences, but at the same time not worry about changing their fundamental traits that make them unique.


1. “When It Comes To Workplace Sexism, Millennial Women Suffer Most.”Leadership. Forbes. Retrieved June 16, 2014.

2. “Diversity & Inclusion – New Programs That Work.” Career. Women of Influence. Retrieved June 16, 2014.

3. “Five crucial leadership lessons from a working mother.” Leadership. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved June 16, 2014.

4. “Who do you prefer as a manager, a woman or a man?.” Management. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved June 16, 2014.


The Right Executive Leaders Make the Difference

Sylvia MacArthur, Madison MacArthur, April 2014

madison macarthur - executive search‘The Right Executive Leaders’ are undoubtedly the key differentiator between success and failure in organisations of any size, sector or type – be they public or private sector; listed blue-chip or family-owned; established brand or start-up – the bottom line is all (or mostly) about the people at the top.

When you look at the public sector, especially in the political arena, everywhere you look in this country leaders are failing their constituents and, worst case scenario, increasingly being charged for criminal activities.  Just look at the many disgraced politicians that have been in the news over the past few months alone. The reason is simple: we continue to appoint the wrong people to the wrong jobs for the wrong reasons.

What is less obvious, much less visible, and often assumed not to be the case by reasonably literate and intelligent people, is that unsuitable appointments happen in the private sector frequently too….. in spite of (or possibly because of) the many boxes that need to be checked in almost all executive level appointment processes.

Not the least of which is the multiple interviews with stakeholders (direct reporting lines, dotted reporting lines, regional reporting structures, functional reporting matrixes, executive board members, non-executive board members) who will interface with the new recruit.

So while there may be a shortlist of 4 to 5 talented individuals at the beginning of the interview process, the one who ultimately reaches the finish line is not necessarily the most exceptional leader in the group – but rather the one with the best interviewing skills, the one who is the most diplomatic, and the one who poses the least threat to the above-mentioned stakeholders. One who is also on occasion the ‘wrong’ person!

And then there are organisations who are willing to make bold decisions (many of them among our clients, thankfully), led by boards who are willing to secure leaders who ruffle feathers from time to time,  who are unapologetic about excellence, and who know what it takes to get there! These companies appoint the right leaders, to the right jobs, for the right reasons.

Saluting Women Executives!

Celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8th, 2014

madison macarthur - executive searchWe’ve just celebrated International Women’s Day. So I think a suitable theme for this blog post must focus on women in executive positions and leadership roles. A topic I am most comfortable with, considering my first hand experience and personal perspective.
Let’s start with the constant question posed by commentators on the ‘workplace’ – being “Why are there so few female executives in senior roles relative to the male contingent?’ (or derivatives of this).

Which I’ll answer as soon as I’ve finished whipping up a batch of homemade soup, called the TV repair man, arranged a veterinary appointment for the dog, had a run around the block (that’s all the time I can allocate to exercise today), and gotten to the office – by 7.30 am, so that I can be ready for my first meeting of the day.

But I digress – back to the question, ‘Why so few women executives at the top?’  Well, there’s a pretty clear answer to that, and it has nothing to do with any incapacity or lacking in skills, intelligence, energy, strength, maturity, wisdom, drive or ambition of professional women.

And everything to do with the fact that most women in their career-climbing years (30 – 40 years of age) are also in their family-rearing years, and unless these women have some kind of super-special domestic set-up combined with the willingness to outsource and delegate most of the domestic issues to 3rd parties (husbands or partners included), they will face the gruelling task of juggling a full-time executive job (you don’t get half-day executive roles) and the needs and demands of family.

In the corporate world, meetings take place at all hours of the day – often first thing (7am) or later in the day (from 4pm), resulting in early starts and late home-coming. Travel is undoubtedly part of an executive’s job description, sometimes weekly – resulting in nights away from home. Weekend conferences for strategy development, team building, and other initiatives are par for the course. Urgent board meetings and ExCo meetings (over and above the regular ones) typically take place after hours. And then because the day is filled with one meeting after another, admin and preparation needs to take place after these….usually on the laptop at home.

Leaving not a lot of time and energy for anything outside of work. And resulting in many extremely talented and capable professional women ‘opting out’ of the corporate world, because they are unwilling to make the compromises and sacrifices required of them.
So the question should not be “Why are there so few female executives”, but rather “When will the demands made of executives allow for flexibility, balance and consideration of family needs?”
But I don’t have the answer to that one, and now I need to dash off to take the cake out of the oven.

All I can say is… women rock….a lot!

What’s in a Name? The Down Side of Non Traditional Executive Job Titles

Sylvia MacArthur, Madison MacArthur, February 2014

madison macarthur - executive searchA decade or so ago, with new approaches to management and leadership penetrating both big corporates and entrepreneurial businesses alike, two trends became noticeably fashionable: 1) breaking down office compartments and styling offices in an open-plan design, and 2) limiting corporate hierarchies and striving for so-called ‘flat’ management structures.

What has transpired over the years in such companies is that grand job titles have become anathema…however, in many instances, the management hierarchies and job levels have remained (what exactly is a ‘flat’ structure in a company of more than 50 people?), and regardless of whether everyone on the executive is called ‘Head’, “Guru” or some other vague description (as opposed to Chief, Vice President, Director or similar), everyone in the organisation knows who’s on top!

However, the challenge for the abstractly designated employees of these companies comes into play when Johnny No-Title decides to move on, and places his CV in the market (or is approached by a headhunter).
And then the harsh reality of how companies (and their HR departments) evaluate executive level candidates becomes clear – frequently, a new prospective employer will look at the candidate’s most recent job title, and if the appropriate combination of words are not present (Executive Head, Chief something or another, etc), Johnny No-Title’s CV will go to the bottom of the pile. He will probably not even be given the opportunity to interview – purely because of a job title that is perceived to be at a lower level than required.

We’ve worked with one company in recruiting an executive that was to be the 2iC to the CEO and their internal title was “Operations Co-ordinator” rather than COO. You can imagine how much appeal that had to the VP level candidates we were recruiting. Many declined to consider the opportunity – a loss to both the prospects and to the company.

In the interests of ‘managing their CV’s’, we’ve recently experienced understandable push back from executive level candidates who are taking new positions in companies which don’t do job titles. As part of the deal, they’re insisting on appropriate job titles being included in their employment contracts. Although they will not be using these designations internally, they can use them in a public space (business cards and the like). This at least allows them to include their ‘legal’ job title in their CV’s should they make a career move at some point in the future.
Tricky to negotiate, because it’s a bit like planning for the divorce at the time of marriage, but if it can be handled deftly, worth your while!

When a Key Executive Resigns

Sylvia MacArthur, Madison MacArthur, December 2013

madison-macarthur-executive-searchIt’s a fact of life – people move on! Even key individuals in the executive team who have been with an organisation for years, who have become synonymous with the company and its brand, and whom one would never expect to leave.
Nothing is static, people change, their personal and professional circumstances change, and so when compelling career opportunities arise at the right time, even the most loyal professionals may decide to pack their bags and move on.

What’s interesting to observe is the way in which different organisations respond to a key resignation. Some will literally march the ‘traitor’ to the door within hours of receiving the resignation letter, others haul the potential defector into meeting after meeting with corporate heavyweights in an attempt to make a counteroffer, while some (very few) accept the situation and focus on dealing with the impact of the impending departure.
The reality is that, unless a counteroffer tactic is successful, the executive employee will shortly be leaving the building for good, so it may be best to focus on filling gaps and managing stakeholders.

And who are these ‘stakeholders’? Some are obvious – (in no particular order) the rest of the executive team, direct reports, and the broader organisation; clients and customers; media; shareholders and investors; service providers and consulting partners…amongst others. In my experience, my corporate clients spend ALL of their time focusing on these ‘stakeholders’ (to varying degrees) with a view to minimising the fallout of the resignation.
However, there is one important stakeholder who is almost never given any consideration at all – and who, with different treatment – might be able to contribute to a successful transition and tremendously reduced collateral damage. Who is this key stakeholder, you ask?…..well, it’s the very same key employee who has just resigned!

Yes, it may feel like a bitter pill to swallow, but undoubtedly, the CEO’s and executive teams who can keep things amiable, respectful and dignified in the days and weeks after a resignation, are MUCH more likely to not just reduce damage, but to actually turn a gaping hole into the foundations for growth.

How Diversity is Transforming the Executive Ranks

Sylvia MacArthur, Madison MacArthur, December 2013

madison-macarthur-executive-searchThe new global market has been the catalyst for getting forward thinking businesses to understand the importance of nurturing diverse management teams. It goes beyond the obvious benefits of global understanding, new cultural and language skills, increased creativity and problem solving and better market insight and customer and consumer loyalty. The successful companies of the future see the importance of reflecting their customer base and realize that diversity directly affects the bottom line.

What impact is diversity actually having at the executive level in the private sector?
As an executive search firm that services a broad spectrum of Fortune 500 clients, Madison MacArthur is proud of the part that we have played in bringing diverse executive talent to our client organizations. In engagements we have completed ranging from management hires in functional areas to Presidents and CEO’s, here’s how the landscape has changed in our searches over the past 5 years:

  • 2012 – 42% men, 58% women, 33% minority (fairly evenly split male/female), slight edge to female)
  • 2011 – 51% men, 49% women, 27% minority (fairly evenly split male/female slight edge to male)
  • 2010 – 56% men, 44% women, 26% minority (fairly evenly split male/female, slight edge to male)
  • 2009 – 59% men, 41% women, 22% minority (evenly split male/female)
  • 2008  – 63% men, 37% women, 19% minority (fairly evenly split male/female, slight edge to male)

What is really impressive about this as it relates to women, is that in most searches, the number of female candidates is below 30% (except for marketing and HR disciplines). In fact, there were several searches during 2012 where the number of female candidates in a potential candidate pool was less than 10%! What are the implications of this? Companies are pushing harder than ever to enhance gender diversity in their executive teams….and the Madison MacArthur team was able to deliver!


Similarly impressive is the growth of minority candidates from under 20% to almost 1/3, thereby allowing our clients’ executive teams to more appropriately reflect the changing demographics of both their customers and their internal workforces.

Supporting clients in championing diversity has also been very fulfilling for the Madison MacArthur team as the learning that we have taken from interacting with such a broad group of candidates has only served to make us even better executive recruiters.

If you are interested in learning more, feel free to contact us.

Balance vs. Imbalance

Sylvia MacArthur, Madison MacArthur, December 2013

Madison MacArthur - Executive SearchIn a previous blog we talked about the notion that people that have more balance in their lives were happier and therefore likely to be more productive in the long run. We talked about how, in a perfect world, you didn’t need to be a slave to work to be successful. But… is that really true?

In saying that we’re assuming that work is not fulfilling and that we need time away to be truly happy. So is it really that work as a whole is not fulfilling, or is it that the specific job that you are in is not challenging and fulfilling you? In my past life in the corporate world I had some jobs that were very demanding and completely drained me. Because I was ambitious, I put in the time, but could not wait for the very long days to end.  I had other jobs that were even more demanding that I absolutely loved. They were all consuming jobs that I lived and breathed 24/7 and I didn’t regret a minute of time spent there.

Having grown up in a working class family that immigrated to Canada from Europe it was drilled into me that you had to earn your stripes and put in the work in order to succeed. I believe that that holds true but wish that I had put in the effort only in jobs that really fulfilled me because it wasn’t about working hard, it was about being in the right job in the right company – then it didn’t seem like work – it was exciting!

If having time away from work is really so important to our overall health and happiness why is it that several studies have shown that people that retire at 65 or earlier suffer more from depression and health issues than those that continue to work. One of the more recent studies can be found here.
Mr. Chamorro-Premuzic, Professor of Business Psychology at University College, London suggests that work/life balance is a silly notion and recently caused outrage when publishing his thoughts in a Harvard Business Review blog.
I go back to my question – is it really that work as a whole is not fulfilling, or is it that the specific job that you are in is not challenging and fulfilling you?