On International Women’s Day, Steep Hills Still to Climb

This is a day to celebrate women’s achievements, and to recommit to keeping up the fight for equality in the workplace and elsewhere. Progress has been made – and search firms are helping when and where they can, but so much more work remains to be done. Here’s one success story.

March 8, 2019 – The modern International Women’s Day can be traced back to 1911, when over a million people gathered for demonstrations across Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. The United Nations began celebrating the day in 1975, and shortly after, other countries began marking the occasion. Now it’s observed annually on March 8, today, to recognize the ways in which women have shaped society, culture, economics and politics.

More than 100 years after that first march occurred, there remains a steep hill to climb. Despite the advances women have made in the workplace, they still account for but a small share of top leadership posts. That’s true in politics and government, academia, the non-profit sector and particularly business. It is a pervasive problem.

Women held only about 10 percent of the top executive positions (defined as chief executive officers, chief financial officers and the next three highest paid executives) at U.S. companies last year, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of federal securities filings by all companies in the benchmark Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 stock index. At the very top of the corporate ladder, just 5.1 percent of CEOs of S&P 1500 companies were women.

One of areas in which women are holding their own is within the human resources and executive search sectors. A report from Korn Ferry showed that 55 percent of CHROs across industries are women. “In our research, we find that women rank higher on key competencies needed in the CHRO role such as collaboration and negotiation skills, the ability to balance multiple constituencies and an appreciation for the dynamics of the overall business,” said Joseph McCabe, vice chairman in Korn Ferry’s global human resources center of expertise. “Interestingly, other Korn Ferry research shows a distinct correlation between CEO and CHRO competencies, but women are still not making it to the very top spot at the rate they should.”

Women in Executive Search

Hiring activity at executive search firms seems to be favoring women these days, especially when it comes to leadership roles within some of the best known global recruiting outfits. According to historical data collected by Hunt Scanlon Media over nearly 30 years, women in the executive recruitment industry have made considerable progress when compared to other professional services sectors  and they continue to do so on a global basis.

Related: Why Women Matter In the Talent Game

Egon Zehnder, a top global leadership provider, recently elected Jill Ader as its new chair. She becomes the first female leader within the global top five executive search firms. “Jill is exceptionally well suited to guide our continued global growth and service innovation while retaining our ‘One Firm’ focus on our clients,” said Damien O’Brien, who retired from the role in November. “She embodies the generosity of spirit that has underpinned the success of Egon Zehnder combined with the deep trust of our clients to support their leadership journeys.”

Reaping the Benefits of Female Leadership
According to a report from Boyden, 63 percent of C-suite and executive participants in German-speaking Europe, 75 percent in the Nordic region and 86 percent in Southern Europe report that access to top management roles is more difficult for women than for men. No surprise there. 

InterSearch Norway just named Ingvild Myhre, an experienced board and technology leader, as its new chairwoman. “Ms. Myhre has extensive boardroom level experience,” said Trond Hess, CEO of InterSearch Norway. “She has also held several top-level executive positions with large, high-profiled Norwegian technology companies. That is a perfect match for us.”

Sports Trailblazer

One sector that has been a challenge for women to climb the corporate ranks has been within sports. Valerie Camillo was recently recruited by Turnkey Search as the president of business operations for the Philadelphia Flyers and Wells Fargo Center. Her advancement is notable: Ms. Camillo becomes one of the first female presidents in professional team sports history, said Len Perna, CEO of Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, parent company of Turnkey Search. Other female team presidents include Kim Pegula of the Buffalo Sabres/Buffalo Bills, Gillian Zucker of the Los Angeles Clippers and previously Amy Trask of the Oakland Raiders and Susan O’Malley of the Washington Bullets.

Related: National Women’s History Museum Taps Koya Leadership Partners for CEO Search

Ms. Camillo, who in her role oversees all day-to-day business operations of the NHL Flyers, NLL Wings and more than 250 events annually at the Wells Fargo Center, including the relationship with the Philadelphia 76ers, is a veteran of the sports world. She recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon to discuss the importance of equality in the workplace, women in sports leadership roles and what lies ahead for the advancement of female leaders. Following is an excerpt from that discussion. Enjoy, and Happy International Women’s Day!


Valerie, for so many reasons it is appropriate for women to be recognized particularly on this day. From a talent perspective, what are you thinking about today?

I’m thinking about my colleagues at the various sports leagues and teams. Thinking about what a great and talented group of women there are working in sports today, and how we can work together to support and inspire the next generation of leadership.

Related: #MeToo Movement Leaves its Mark on Staffing

Why is it a competitive advantage to have more women in top roles?

Sports tickets are one option in an ever-crowding market for entertainment dollars. Women make a large percentage of the purchasing decisions for families and are an increasing force in controlling corporate marketing dollars, as well. Other women are well positioned to understand the preferences and messages that will resonate with this valuable customer segment. Diversity of thought will lead to diversity of dollars. In addition, women control a great deal of the economic purchasing power, and our preferences aren’t exactly the same as men. Having representation is a competitive advantage in terms of being able to better shape sales and marketing messaging that drive purchases from this valuable customer base.

“I don’t want to be unrealistically optimistic, but I do believe things are changing for the better and representation will increase across the sports industry, C-suite, and boardrooms.” 

Why Three Quarters of Board Directorships Still Go to Men
Boards of directors may very well be the most influential decision makers in business. They choose the CEO and review and assess much of the top talent for their organization. They help determine vision and strategy. They deal with legal and technological challenges, financial regulation and reputation issues…

Within sports, you’re one of the few women in a top leadership role. Why do you think the glass ceiling in this sector has been more difficult to crack?

Women tend to gravitate to areas of the sports business (e.g., service, activation, HR, communications), by their own preference and/or as a result of the system, that doesn’t often lead to the top roles. The top business executives in sports tend to come from revenue-generating career tracks. If you don’t demonstrate experience negotiating and closing business, it will be hard to crack the ceiling. My No. 1 encouragement to young women in the industry is to “stay close to the revenue.”

What do you expect to see in terms of advancement opportunities for women in the next five to 10 years? 

I don’t want to be unrealistically optimistic, but I do believe things are changing for the better and representation will increase across the sports industry, C-suite, and boardrooms. I can only speak to my own experience, but I do see more doors opening in the past few years. I also see a stated commitment from leagues like the NHL and NBA. Doors are opening that I’ve been able to step through onto corporate boards and into my role as the president of the Flyers and Wells Fargo Center.

Related: Egon Zehnder Finds New Commissioner for Australian Football League

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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