A token woman on every shortlist or a new approach to diversity hiring?

Last week was international women’s day. In Belgium, 50 of the leading CEO’s, both male and female, wrote an open letter pleading to encourage, coach and promote female talent to the highest levels of management.

On that same day, I was interviewing candidates for a director job. As I am truly convinced that female presence in a boardroom will benefit any company, I like to have at least one woman on the shortlist.

Nevertheless, I was struggling. None of my female candidates were at the same level as their male counterparts. It left me with a dilemma: would I present a shortlist of male candidates only, knowing that I was hired to find the best candidate for the job or would I add a woman to list, knowing that she was not the right fit, just for the sake of diversity.

So instead of imposing myself quota and risking to have a token woman on the shortlist, I decided to go with the first option and present only the best candidates for the position.

But it left me thinking as to how we can improve diversity hiring because reality remains that there are still very few women in positions that truly impact the business.

The main objective of diversity hiring is to foster innovation and improve business performance by having people around the table who have different points of view, a different frame of reference. That entails that female leaders should have a genuine impact in the boardroom, not just a seat at the table.

The only way we can do this, is to stop focusing on a specific job, but work on creating a continuous pipeline of talented females who are a match from a cultural perspective and who have a skillset that can add value to the business. Companies will need to be flexible enough to create the right role or adjust the existing organization to attract those women and offer them a growth path to make sure that they can make a difference when they reach boardroom level.

Maybe it is time that we start to be flexible enough to hire women at a time when it is right for them, not just when it is right for us.

I look forward to hearing from you,


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A token woman on every shortlist or a new approach to diversity hiring? was originally published in Secrets of a headhunter on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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