February 26, 2016 – According to data collected by Hunt Scanlon Media, women in the executive search industry have made considerable progress over the last quarter century, and they continue to do so on a global basis. A massive restructuring has been underway in the executive recruiting business for much of the last decade, from the products and services being delivered, to who’s delivering them. As the statistics show, women are coming out on top.
One result has been that more women are discovering how well-suited they are to the identification and assessment of corporate leaders, and they have been penetrating the business from top to bottom. They are highly adept at building and maintaining relationships with clients and candidates, an ‘external affiliating’ skill set perhaps they more uniquely possess than their male counterparts.
That personal touch is one factor that is only going to become more critical. Expect women to have an ever expanding role in who gets what top job, where, and when.
Amy St. Denis founded The St. Denis Group on the singular belief that culture is the cornerstone of every successful organization – her own included. Placing a strong emphasis on cultural alignment, the firm’s recruiting process is driven by a desire to create high-impact teams for its clients, primarily in the real estate sector. Pairing companies with exceptional candidates who share and foster their mission, vision, and values has been a hallmark of the firm for 19 years.
In the following interview, Amy takes us into her start as a career search professional and gives advice to women who might be considering following a similar path as hers. Amy describes how mentoring by other women helped move her along at the right times, and she discusses a future where women will take on more central leadership roles in the search industry, while continuing to play an integral part in the talent acquisition needs of companies.
What factors led you to choose search as a career?
Very early in my career (at age 24) my husband started residency in Chicago and we relocated to that city. I didn’t know anyone in Chicago, and I was referred to a search consultant who spent hours with me giving me contacts and market intelligence on the area. He was so kind to me that I thought search must be such a wonderful industry. That man was Rick King of Kittleman & Associates, and I still refer work to him whenever possible. I have tried to model my search practice after what I experienced in his office on Wacker Street 24 years ago.
Amy, what advice would you give to other women who might be considering forming their own search firms?
I would advise that search is a wonderful business for women. It allows a high degree of flexibility while offering a real entrepreneurial business experience. I received some advice early on that has proven true: a successful practice takes years to build. I was lucky and had success with my client base early on, but my sector is cyclical, and it has been my dedication to my client base, my candidates and my practice that has led to the long term success of my business. There have been times where I have been encouraged to switch industries, but my resistance to that advice has led me to prosper.
Women in business often point to mentoring by other women as a key factor to their success. Was this your experience?
I had some mentoring early on by a few women in search. During my early career, I worked in Dallas at a firm where a few experienced women were essential to my growth as a professional. Those women were not involved in my practice, but their example as professionals in terms of how they handled themselves served as an important guide to me in my development. Their grace under pressure is still an inspiration to me.
As a female recruiter, to what extent can you be helpful to other women, namely candidates, in assisting them to advance to key management positions?
My team is composed of women; not by design but possibly because they can deal with my ‘creative chaos’ search style! I work in the commercial real estate industry, where women are considered ‘diversity candidates.’ When there is an opportunity for me (or the firm) to mentor or coach a woman who has a passion for real estate, we are going to work hard to give her opportunities. I participate in a number of forums, specific to the industry and to my city, that promote women in business. It is very clear that the gender balance will change dramatically in the next generation of real estate companies.
Only one of the top 10 U.S. search firms has a woman as its CEO. What factors do you think will lead the largest firms to appointing a female chief in the future?
One of the factors that make search a great career choice is that a young person can start their career in their 20s, like I did, and practice well past retirement age. We still see many search consultants, and leadership, who have been practicing for 30 or 40 years. This means the individuals who they placed initially are running companies and boards. Thirty or 40 years ago, there were few women actually running searches. Today, women are graduating from college at higher levels than men. Women are staying in their search careers through raising their families, rather than taking 10 or 15 years off. It is only a matter of time before many of the big 10 begin seeing more qualified women candidates for these roles. But the public search firms have boards made up of older executives who still look like companies from 30 to 40 years ago. Their executives will probably mirror the rest of NASDAQ for the foreseeable future. Regardless, a large percentage of executive search work in the U.S. and abroad is completed outside the largest 10 search firms. There is so much opportunity for women in the rest of the industry. The water is warm!
Contributed by Christopher W. Hunt, Publisher, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media