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Elevating the Potential of Women in Recruitment

It’s a fact that women remain underrepresented – and undervalued – at the most senior levels in business. According to recent research from APSCo, the current gender pay gap - 9.6% - is only half of what it was 20 years ago when it stood at 19%. This disparity can largely be attributed to a shortfall of females in leadership roles. Today, just 32.1% of FTSE 100 board positions are held by women, up from 12.5% in 2011. Yes, we’re making progress. But are we moving fast enough?

Within the recruitment industry, we ourselves can also do better. The latest research from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) into pay and benefits in the recruitment sector has highlighted that male managers in the recruitment industry earn more on average from their total earnings than women, with a mean gender pay gap of 10%. Even at consultant level, men earn on average £5,589 more from their total earnings (including bonus, commission, etc.) than women, with a mean gender pay gap of 14%.

The staffing sector has not only a social responsibility, but also a real opportunity, to create an even playing field through encouraging firms to boost diversity and inclusion, and to help create solutions for an equal workplace for all. Women in Recruitment was formed to give all recruitment firms practical support in attracting, developing and retaining their female talent, as well as providing a tangible demonstration of a commitment to gender equality for clients and candidates. Sharing best practice is a powerful mechanism to affect change, and at a recent round-table event – hosted by Cube19 - attendees discussed how they are moving the dial on gender equality. Here is a summary of what was shared on the day.   


To begin with, business leaders must be clear on both the business case for inclusion and where the recruitment industry currently stands. Once you’ve made the case for change, review current hiring practices objectively to identify where recruitment processes may be turning women off. Ensure you use inclusive language in job ads and descriptions and trial various types of recruitment roles to play to different strengths. Introduce diverse employees during the selection process and consider more structured interviewing at the top to remove unconscious bias and prevent leaders hiring in the image of themselves.

As one attendee highlighted, “we advise clients on diversity – and companies are looking for partners with ‘cultural competence’ to look after their recruitment”. It’s crucial to hold a mirror up to our own practices, so that we can manage clients’ challenges authentically.   


In order to engage female talent, leadership buy-in and involvement is vital to drive change and evolve the culture. The tone is set – and lived and breathed – from the top. And steps should be taken to alleviate bad practice and unacceptable behaviour, even if it means saying goodbye to top billers.

However, while corporate culture must be driven from the top, it’s important to engage and consult with teams on the ground. Employee groups can work well, but it is important to have a clear objective and the responsibility should be shared, rather than put on one leader or individual. As one recruitment leader at the round table noted, “you need to create a culture where people want to make a difference – rather than one where people are just told to care.”


Getting female talent through the door is just the first step. Ensuring that these individuals are not only retained – but also offered the opportunity to excel – is even more important. With this in mind, processes should be put in place to help women build on their personal strengths and close the confidence gap. Training tools like Power of Me can help. In a similar vein, decision makers may need to reassess the qualities that we define leadership by, putting a greater emphasis on traits such as empathy.

Mentoring and reverse mentoring were identified as effective ways to help to upskill and drive change on the day. As one attendee noted, junior women paired with senior men were often the most successful partnerships in terms of impact, with male leaders making adjustments as a direct result of the sessions.

Businesses must also work to address unconscious bias. As one attendee on the day candidly admitted, when discussing promotion decisions, “If I was alone on the board I would have discounted them – now they’re my top performer.”

Finally, everyone in the business must simply be aware of the career options available to them – and what they need to do to get there. 


It’s no secret that reward is ingrained within the culture of the recruitment industry - but perks must be tailored to the audience to appeal. Boozy nights out, flashy holidays and rugby matches aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and if this is the culture you’re promoting internally and selling through your social channels, people may become disengaged. 

Instead, ask people what they want and need. Be brave – and don’t be afraid to rock the boat. One attendee shared how they had said goodbye to the company’s ‘Rolex Target’ and instead introduced a ‘Treasure Chest’ to appeal more broadly. Another noted how team building activities where alcohol is not involved are often the most effective as it offers an opportunity to, “Observe the flow, relationships and who’s leading.”

As recruitment leaders, it’s our responsibility to establish our profession as a ‘beacon of excellence’ for gender equality. And through sharing best practice, we are able to replicate our own successes throughout the wider workforce.

For more information visit


Nicola Mullarkey, Managing Director

07966 586556