image1Some years ago, I was assigned a mandate to headhunt a senior director for a consultancy firm. During my initial phone call to a prospective candidate, there was a sudden silence and I heard a couple of whimpers. “Excuse me” said my candidate, “we have just had a baby and I am feeding her”.

What was unusual was not the fact that I was having a career conversation with a candidate on maternity leave, but that this candidate was the father.

Both husband and wife had taken the decision that the wife would return to work after her maternity leave as she was the higher wage earner. And since it was the days before paternity leave, my candidate was using his notice period to both interview for new jobs and continue bringing up baby. An early form of shared parental leave.

It is interesting to note that both parties worked for management consultancy firms. Today, two of the Big 4 have women as their CEOs, a first for both.* And KPMG’s new partner appointments in Australia are up 24% from 2014 including two women on, or about to take maternity leave.

In the US, Working Mother magazine’s list of the 100 best companies to work for is made up of 18 accounting or consulting firms, including all of the Big Four. Tellingly, use of telecommuting, i.e. flexible working, continued to rise to 55%, while use of compressed work weeks declined year on year.

All good news for women and their profiting companies… if you work in management consultancy. But if you work in recruitment? There were none on the list. Recruitment organisations continue to haemorrhage women; often top billers with client and candidate relationships.

Why is this? Gender diversity has been shown time and time again to increase innovation, creativity and financial results. Not only should we be on the list but we should be at the top. As organisations that focus exclusively on staffing, all we have is people; clients, candidates and our own colleagues. We should be leading the corporate world, our clients, in setting the standards for positive results.

Staffing organisations are uniquely placed to accommodate flexible working practices – we grow our businesses by developing relationships with and between people. We do not need to be desk-bound in the office between the hours of 9 to 5 to do this. Our intellectual capital is our people. Again, we do need to be desk-bound to develop it.

And to prove the point is UK Plc, SThree (Natasha Clarke is Chair of the WiR Executive Committee) which leads the way in new flexible working policies and other retention practices. The net result is a doubling of their female retention rate, an increase in maternity leave returners to 80% and a levelling of female to male churn.

When we consider these results, the question is not why should recruitment companies consider flexible working practices, the question is when?

 

  • Lynne Doughtie US Chairman and CEO, KPMG, July 2015 and Cathy Engelbert CEO, Deloitte LLP, March 2014