What Women Want! 3 Top Tips To Attracting Female Talent

Anika Stokes 07.05.2018

Having worked at the mid to senior end of the market for a very long time now I have certainly seen a definitive shift in companies trying to move the diversity dial when it comes to hiring GM level positions and above.

Companies are now rightly insisting I present at least a 50/50 shortlist, male vs female talent, and in some cases it is very clear my mission is to seek out extraordinary female talent as a first priority. Many exec’s absolutely know that diverse leadership teams lead to better outcomes for stakeholders and shareholders alike and also ensure greater innovation and stronger bottom lines, however it is also true that many leaders are now heavily KPI’d on diversity targets for their team. Whatever the true reason for the increased demand in requests for female talent, I can tell you that there is certainly not an abundance of actively looking female talent on the market, and they are also harder to attract once we do find them and present them to a company.

According to Australian Institute of Company Directors, women now account for 26.7 percent of ASX 200 directorships, with a total of five boards in the ASX 200 without any female representation, down from 14 last International Women’s Day.

For the first two months of 2018, women accounted for 47 percent of ASX 200 board appointments, up from 36 percent in 2017 so there is real evidence that the dial is moving and more women are getting those top jobs.

Last year 55% of my placements were made with female candidates, although 80% of my mandates, when initially briefed, expressed a real interest in hiring a female if possible. So my message to my clients has been, if you are asking me to bring my A game to get these ladies in front of you, you need to bring your A game to attract them, and then retain them.

It is no coincidence that the ones who have been listening to this advice are the ones winning the war on talent. Many of the companies I am dealing with have put whole strategies together around how to attract, retain and ensure women go on to be successful in their businesses and that goes way beyond just offering flexible working.

I have spoken to a number of the females I have placed over the last few years about what it is that they were looking for what what attracted them to the roles they chose. Here are my the top 3 tips for attracting female talent.

1/ They look for companies with purpose and role where they can deliver meaningful impact.

When describing the fantastic opportunity I am presenting to my potential female candidate, I have been asked a number of times over the last year, “what is their purpose?”.  They want to work with a business whose purpose aligns with their own values and interviewers need to not only understand and truly believe in this but also then be able to explain how the role they are being asked to do will have a positive impact. 

I have been asked by female candidates many times over recent months about roles in sectors like Healthcare, Not for Profit, and tech-start up’s, where decent roles are few and far between. The reality is candidates often end up in the sectors they least expect they thought they would end up in. They find through the process they really connected with the business’ purpose and understand their part in the masterplan for that business.

2/ The people are the heart of any business.

This maybe a little more obvious but most of my clients would totally think they themselves are impressive, likable, smart, successful, a great boss...why the hell wouldn’t candidates want to work for me!!!!

I have some clients I just know, if I put any candidate in front of them for 45 mins, the candidate will walk away wanting to know more. Many of these clients work in businesses that are potentially not the most attractive on first glance. So what are they doing that others are not? 

The first meeting is informal over a coffee, it happens quickly, the client is 100% engaged and is really listening to what the candidate is after. They “sell” the opportunity, not just give them a high level role description, they speak of the vision and how the role fits into this. They are also flexible enough to adapt the role slightly if possible should the candidate mention that say using a particular skill set was important to them.

Through the interview process they really try to introduce the candidate to other leaders and peers that they are most likely to instantly connect with and I would always recommend that they meet other senior females early on in any process. If flexibility is important to the candidate ensure they meet someone who is benefiting from flexibility and making it work for them. They are really thinking about who they are putting in front of them at every step of the way. Essentially they bring in their A team. 

One of my recent female placements commented that the reason she chose the role she did was because everytime she went to interview with the company she landed on, she left feeling like she wanted to be part of that “family”!  Every person she had met sang from the same hymn sheet, used the same positive language and had an aligned vision. She had 9 other very impressive businesses after her.

3/ Potential for Growth.

Whilst female candidates are less likely to take a role just because they see it as a stepping stone move to the next thing, they are very conscious that they choose a role where they will be recognised and rewarded for their achievements and greater opportunities for their success lie ahead. It is very important to highlight previous success stories where others have gone on to shine and also introduce candidates to any potential or likely sponsors or mentors. 
Sponsors and Mentors are always a hot topic at any women in leadership event, in that high profile female leaders attribute a lot of their successes to having had at least one strong sponsor or / and mentor.

One lady I recently placed in a GM level position cited “I firmly believe that potential for growth is determined by not only the structure of the role and the organisation, but - perhaps more importantly - by the potential for mentors and sponsors in the organisation. Studies and my own personal experience have shown that, aside from continued delivery of excellent results, building a network of mentors (and sponsors, to the extent possible) is the key success factor to continued growth. Thus, for any role, it is important for me to find a hiring manager who has similar values, and could therefore be a mentor”.


Anika Stokes's picture
Director | Strategy & Innovation