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Rachel Davis | 40 Outstanding global women 2023

Rachel Davis

The business case for having more women around the boardroom table

Increasing the number of female leaders in an organisation has many benefits, says Rachel Davis, co-CEO Armstrong Craven, a global talent mapping and pipelining partner for scarce and senior positions.

Women can be and tend to be more empathetic and tend to be more collaborative than men. If you want that kind of leadership skill set in your business – and you should – then it is a double positive to appoint a woman.

Rachel Davis, Co-CEO at Armstrong Craven.

Having more female leaIt ensures a more equitable representation of a company’s investors, customers, stakeholders and employers. It derisks the organisation by removing the liability of poor decisions made through groupthink.

Achieving true gender diversity does not happen overnight, though, and it is not a quick fix. Companies need to review how they conduct their search process for executive talent and think outside their own niche industries in order to find the right candidate.

“There have been big changes at board level due in part to legislation in some countries, which have enhanced female non-executive representation on boards,” she says. “However, when it comes to the executive leadership team, change has been slower. While functional roles like chief information officer (CIO) and chief financial officer (CFO) are increasingly occupied by women, the more corporate or business roles too often are still male dominated.”

Rachel was part of Armstrong Craven’s MBO in 2013 and has held Board roles since then, so as well as being in touch with recruitment trends in executive leadership, she also has lived experience of being a female leader. She joined Armstrong Craven in 1998 and as Co-Managing Director, oversees operations and retains key client relationships globally.

Changing Mindsets

From the perspective of talent search, she says the effects of the pandemic – a growing talent shortage due to the Great Resignation, demand for more flexible working and an increasing need for digital-savvy managers – have driven more employers to consider potential candidates from outside their niche industries.

“Businesses overall have appreciated the greater access to talent that flexible working brings,” she says. “There’s also the fact that the talent itself is demanding this flexibility now, although during lockdown the benefits of flexible working may well have been offset by the challenges women faced around home schooling and juggling family life. Women with school age children may decide to step out of corporate life and run their own business or become consultants in order to maintain flexibility during those school years.

”Executive search organisations are now having conversations with boards about how finding the best candidate for the role might involve a mindset change. As an organization we are helping businesses to remove the reactivity involved in an executive search, which by definition is reactive because there’s a hole in the in the organization and you are scrambling to fill it,” she says.

It takes double the recruitment outreach to have a women engage with you for a potential role — then the bias creeps in because the first interviews will have all been with men. To remedy this Armstrong Craven starts by engaging the female candidates first, in order to ensure a more level playing field.

“We were finding that the ‘best’ candidate in terms of coming forward first is often male. Our experience over many years is that it takes double the amount of outreach attempts to have a woman engage with you for a potential role.“Then bias creeps in, because the first interviews will have been all with men, and therefore by the time the kind of women make it to the shortlist, assumptions may already have been made.”

To remedy this, Armstrong Craven starts by engaging the female candidates first, in order to ensure a more level playing field.

“It comes back to some of the research around a woman only applying for a role if she thinks she might fulfil 90% of the criteria, compared to 60% for men.  Then there is the imposter syndrome, which does also affect men. For this reason, companies are now being urged to look at candidates from outside their industry sector who have the transferable skills, experience of leading through change, and the ability to influence that a modern leader needs.

The old leadership style of ‘command and control’ is being replaced by one of purpose and collaboration, and all leaders, male or female, need to be able to demonstrate high EQ, empathetic leadership styles and the ability to communicate and influence.

“Women can be and tend to be more empathetic and tend to be more collaborative than men. If you want that kind of leadership skillset in your business – and you should – then it is a double positive to appoint a woman.

“I’m a business person first and foremost. The second you label yourself as a woman, you are in a potentially different mindset. Your opinions are interesting and they count and it doesn’t actually matter that you’re saying them as a woman. Build that inner confidence regardless of gender, so that you feel able to debate openly rather than waiting for permission to contribute.”

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Outstanding Women 2023


Understand your own natural leadership style

Don’t be afraid to put your opinions out there and take real strength from the fact that the world has changed

Be inclusive

When people feel included and listened to they are much more likely to understand and support the decisions you have made. Do your absolute best not to put your own gender front of mind

Be transparent

Be transparent about your decision making and communicate that to others

Seek out mentors

We can and should always be learning whether from a mentor or a reverse mentoring programme

Think Women events

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11:00 - 15:00 (GMT)
IOD, London Think Women: Inspiring Global Women for Growth