“The white men over 50 club” has been used to describe corporate executive teams, and there are enough studies and statistics to back it up—at least at first glance. Staffing, however, has a better track record, and is a prime example of using women as leaders, a trend that has been moving upward for decades.
While the number of women executives is still very low for most industries, women in staffing companies are moving up at a more favorable rate. In fact, eight out of 10 of the largest U.S. staffing firms have at least one woman on their boards.
Interestingly, some studies over the years indicate that companies with a diverse executive team enjoy greater success than the standard, white-male corporate executive team of yesteryear.
In another study, Pepperdine University Professor Roy Adler tracked 215 Fortune 500 companies, comparing their financial performance to industry medians. In a Harvard Business Review article presenting his findings, Adler showed that the companies with the highest percentages of female executives significantly outperformed their peers. For example, when it came to profits, the women-friendly companies beat the corresponding industry medians by 34 percent. Clearly, women bring not only diversity to the corporate table, but a kick to the bottom line as well.
Talent Knows No Gender
What was once considered a gender-based role is increasingly viewed as a talent-based role. “It’s not just a matter of diversification for diversification’s sake,” says Dawn Jaffray, CFO of leading staffing company Westaff. “Companies are not necessarily saying that they are searching for a woman executive, but they are searching for the right person that fulfills certain qualifications and brings a set of skills that will complement the executive team. And they would be happy if that person were a woman.”
Many female executives try to downplay their gender, and instead focus on the skills and experience that earned them the position. “I’m of the age where I’ve been the first woman in a lot of things throughout my career,” says Kristi Kennedy, a premier executive at Westaff. “While I’ve tried not to focus myself only as a woman doing this, I accept a certain responsibility for the fact that I am a woman,” Kennedy says, “and that it would be instructive for others to hear.”
There is no difference in how a male or female executive governs, according to Kennedy, and no indication that a woman’s viewpoint is more segregated in one direction or another. “From a female standpoint, I guess they are probably getting used to having a female in the room, but my sense is that it hasn’t changed the way they operate,” Kennedy says. “I bring a certain management style, and a certain management background, perhaps slightly altered by the fact that I’m a woman, but predominantly just based on experience.”
Diversity is a recurring theme as companies evaluate their executive team appointments. “My sense is that any organization, particularly an executive team, should represent the diversity of the constituents,” Kennedy says. In the case of staffing agencies, there is a high ratio of female employees and clients. “It’s marvelous for young women in the company to see someone who may match their aspirations. And if women in a company only see men, that’s not going to be a good feeling for them,” Kennedy explains.
The key for a woman in any executive position, according to Jaffray, is to be strong in how she interacts with the other team members, and not be intimidated. “It’s important to take a seat at the table by being able to make a contribution with your ideas, be able to be fairly vocal about your position,” Jaffray declares.
“I think sometimes women are shy about taking credit for what they have accomplished,” Jaffray notes. “But the most important thing is to have accomplishments—and then take credit for what you have done.” TPW