Apis Alvi is proud to support International Women’s Day #BalanceforBetter, and help raise awareness for diversity and representation for women in the workplace as well as across all aspects of our society.
Here, in the first of a series of interviews, we speak to three of our management team, to find out about their career achievements and experiences as women in leadership roles in our own industry.
Jane Deans, Chief Human Resources Officer
Jane recently joined the Apis Alvi group and has overall responsibility for all human resources functions. Having started her career as a recruiter before moving into talent management, Jane has experience of working for global recruitment firms, as well as specialist boutique search firms.
Have you personally faced any specific challenges as a woman in the recruitment industry?
I personally don’t feel I have faced and challenges that are specific to being a woman. I think you will face challenges in any industry you chose to work in whether you are male or female. Working in the recruitment industry gives you the opportunity to engage with, and learn from, a variety of different people from a variety of backgrounds. Within the industry, I have had the opportunity to work for some great leaders, both male and female, who have been very supportive of my career development, and have never questioned my ability or commitment to do something better or worse because I was a woman.
It is widely publicised that women remain underrepresented at the top level of corporations globally, and that is particularly true in the recruitment industry. The demographics start out fairly balanced at consultant level but moving up the levels the balance shifts considerably, and I think that’s something we do need to do more to address as an industry. If there are no female role models at the top, it’s harder to encourage women at earlier stages of their careers to pursue their aspirations.
Role models and mentors are very important, and I would encourage all women to actively seek out a professional mentor that you can go to for support, advice and guidance. They don’t necessarily have to work in your company, for example, professional networks can be a good way to find mentors or even using LinkedIn to identify professional role models.
How do you think companies can ensure their hiring strategies enable women to progress to senior positions, or on fact get hired in the first place?
To stay competitive, all companies need to be tapping into the entire talent pool, and not just half of it. If organisations are serious about attracting more female talent and ensuring they can progress into more senior positions a good starting point would be to consider the three points below:
Language: Start by reviewing the language in your recruitment marketing and current job descriptions. Often, the language used in management or senior job descriptions can provide the first impression of an organisation’s culture, and women are more likely to be put off from applying to adverts that contain an abundance of masculine language; for example, adjectives like ‘driven’, ‘competitive’, ‘decisive’. When developing a job description, try to question assumptions that may inhibit your ability to attract a diverse set of candidates. For example, does it have to be based in a certain location or be tied to specific times? You can also introduce blind CV screening to further reduce the possibility of unconscious bias and review who sits on your interview panels? It’s important to have a diverse panel of interviewers and to make sure that your interviewers receive training on stereotype bias or the halo effect.
Flexibility: Either in the form of formal policies or informal arrangements – offer flexibility from the outset. It is often wrongly assumed that only women need or care about family-friendly policies, but men are also part of families, and these policies are essential to meet the needs of modern families or dual – career parents. They ensure that women can remain in the workforce and reach senior positions. Changing the culture to encourage men to also make use of family-friendly policies is critical.
Role model visibility. This visibility of women in traditionally male-dominated roles and industries cannot be underestimated. The visibility of women at the top demonstrates to other women that it is possible for them to get there too. Encourage mentoring programmes and bring in external support if needed. The initial investment will be worth it.
Should every firm have a diversity policy?
Yes, absolutely – but policy alone isn’t enough. Creating a diverse and inclusive culture is about much more than having a policy published in your employee handbook. For example, the link between what is espoused in a diversity policy and talent management processes is often too weak. To create a diverse and inclusive culture organisation have to ensure that they limit the potential for bias and preference in their recruitment and people management processes.
But I want to clarify here that a diversity policy isn’t just for women – fairness, inclusion and equality in people processes matter to everyone in an organisation. Employees need to have faith that people processes are fair to feel confident that they can build lasting careers with an organisation. This is only going to become more important, as increasingly research is showing that millennials consider prospective employers’ policies on diversity, equality and inclusion when deciding to apply or accept job offers.
Amanda Ansell, Head of Marketing, Tiffany Chow, Chief Admin Officer & Victoria Williamson, Head of HR
Victoria began her HR career at a leading UK retail giant, where she spent over 10 years in various HR roles before moving to a mental health charity. Tiffany leads the group’s admin and support functions and has been instrumental in introducing the processes that have enabled the group to grow so rapidly. Amanda has held marketing roles in publishing, advertising and provided marketing services and content for professional B2B clients as a freelancer in the UK, Australia and Hong Kong.
Admin, HR and marketing are disciplines that generally have a higher proportion of women professionals than some other business areas, why do you think this is?
Amanda. Women are relatively well represented in marketing positions in the industries I have worked in personally, and I have never felt my gender was a barrier to progression at any point. However, at a senior level, there is definitely more work that can be done to enable women to excel into top leadership roles. It would be great, for example, if companies could provide more mentoring and coaching programs aimed specifically at some of the issues women face in the workplace, whether it is how to deal with discrimination or how to build the confidence to manage large teams.
Tiffany: I believe that the reasons are twofold. First, owing to the historical reasons, admin positions may be less appealing to male candidates due to its long-standing reputation as a “female occupation”, where women supported the more visible business critical roles, and these roles didn’t necessarily have their own career structure or department. Second, there has been a lack of public attention and efforts taken to challenge this biased and inaccurate view. Despite that admin and operations functions has evolved into a much more impactful profession nowadays, the biased impression continues and admin roles remain not so popular with male candidates.
Victoria: The historical roots of HR lie in providing welfare support to employees – a role which was historically taken by women. “Personnel” as it was often called was a back office support function and it attracted women in the same way that secretarial and administrative roles did. HR over time has developed and can now be seen to be crucial to the successful operation of a business. People can be an organisation’s biggest asset and how we attract, recruit, train, develop and retain our people is key to business success. As HR continues to develop as a function that partners with and enables the business to perform I think it will be seen as a more attractive prospect to men who want to be at the cutting edge of success.
As with all changes, raising awareness is the first step. I believe that such perceptions and imbalance will eventually be rectified as we create more opportunities to provide correct information about the field of HR and talk more about gender balance and equality in schools, community and the workplace.
How do you find working in recruitment compared to other sectors?
Amanda: I love working in recruitment as every day is different, and even on the marketing side, we meet so many different people on a daily basis. I am lucky enough to have worked for the group in Hong Kong and London, and the diversity of our teams, clients and candidates is amazing, in terms of gender but also in terms cultural background. I truly believe it adds an exciting and dynamic element to my role, and to the work we output.”
Victoria: I love the pace of recruitment. I started my career as a recruitment consultant and whilst the ‘sales’ aspect of it did not motivate me personally, I loved the satisfaction of finding great new employees for a client, and helping candidates to find the next exciting move in their career. By doing HR in recruitment I feel that I still get to do that but I also get to be involved in the career of the candidate and the success of the business beyond a new employee’s first day – in HR we can support the new employee throughout their whole career with us at the Apis Alvi Group and we can work closely with the leaders and the decision makers of the business by ensuring that our people are at the heart of our business decisions.
Tiffany: Recruitment is a dynamic and fast-paced industry that rewards hard work and ambition. I had never thought of entering into this field when I first completed my undergraduate degree in Canada. It was through a referral that I launched my career in this exciting industry upon my return to Hong Kong. Throughout the years, I have gathered the invaluable experience of working in various positions within the firm. You will constantly interact with candidates, clients, vendors, consultants, team leaders, and senior management. Our work demands strong communication and organisational skills. It is a people-centric environment and there is never a boring day.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
Victoria: The slogan this year is ‘balance for better’. For me, it is an opportunity to talk about the importance of inclusivity and diversity. It is easy for all us all to make assumptions about what sort of job a certain person may be interested in, or what sort of skills someone might have. If this day makes us think twice about some of those assumptions that it has been a success in my book.
Tiffany: As a woman, International Women’s Day represents a reminder for me to celebrate our achievements and to unify our direction to work towards a more gender-balanced environment. For me, raising awareness and challenging bias will be my key focus this year.
Amanda: International Women’s Day is as important as any other initiative that raises awareness of the inequalities in the provision of opportunity and the makeup of our workforce. Having a balanced and representative workforce that reflects our wider society should be something that just happens, and until it does, we should always proactively support such causes.