How To Attract More Female Candidates For Executive Searches

September 14, 2017 at 2:20 PM

We are pleased to re-publish a post from our Boston-based Access Executive Search partners Polachi Executive Search........

Are you looking to bring more women into the mix when you hire your next executive? If so, you're not alone. Charley Polachi asked Erica Seidel, friend and partner of Polachi Executive Search, to share tips with you. Erica recruits executives with a focus on modern marketing, digital strategy, marketing technology, and marketing analytics. Here is what she had to say....

“…And we’d like you to introduce us to plenty of women candidates.” Executive search people hear this a lot. Especially these days.

Here’s what I’ve done to funnel top women candidates into searches:

1. Read “Solutions To Recruit Technical Women.” This guide, published by The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, details how to build female-friendly recruitment channels and hiring practices. It also showcases tech companies with creative approaches to recruiting women.

2. Define what success looks like in the job, and focus less on what the ideal candidate looks like. In other words, define the job more so than the person. I’ve found that a search is far more successful if we accurately define the problem we’re looking to solve, the results we’re hoping the new leader will achieve, and the KPIs that will form the signposts along the way. By contrast, if we get into “this is someone who is charismatic,” then we get stuck trying to manifest that particular personality style, and benchmarking candidates against that style rather than against the job. While interaction styles matter, there are a number of styles that can be successful at, say, telling great stories with data or bringing people on board with a new marketing initiative.

3. Optimize the job spec, which is the ‘front door’ to an opportunity. When candidates first read the job spec, they try to picture themselves in the role. If they read something that makes them picture someone else, they could be turned off from the start. To maximize engagement with the job spec, here are some things I’ve found that work well:

  • Run a job spec through Textio, to spot language that could be made more gender-neutral.
  • Interview a variety of people who will be on the hiring team or be a stakeholder for the new hire. Incorporate their input into the job spec, peppering in quotes from a range of people. Doing this makes the role and culture come alive more, while showcasing diversity of thought and background
  • Stay careful with how many requirements we impose. Being overly prescriptive can turn off candidates — women in particular. Men have been shown to throw their hat in the ring for a role if they meet 60% of the stated requirements, while many women toss their hat in only if they meet 100% of the requirements. With that in mind, I prefer to write job specs that are broadly-worded, to attract a variety of interesting candidates. Instead of saying, “you’re an expert in lead gen”, I’m more likely to write something like, “You love coming up with novel ways to drive traffic and conversion.” Then I’ll apply an evaluation process that figures out if a particular candidate’s experience really constitutes the expertise we need.

4. Scout female candidates in particular. Ah, the joys of LinkedIn. You can find alumnae from historically women’s colleges – Wellesley, Smith, Mount Holyoke, etc. You can search for words like ‘women’ or ‘she.’ Beyond LinkedIn, some lists of ‘women to watch’ are very helpful. 

5. Orchestrate a process designed to let skills shine – not just through interviews, but also through assessments. Most interviews are about building rapport and discussing the job in generalities. This isn’t a bad start. But things get a lot more real when we discuss actual work that a candidate has done, and invite that candidate to grapple with the challenges of the role that they’re evaluating.

6. Make sure candidates meet with both women and men at your company. Some candidates – though not all — value greatly the opportunity to meet people of all genders when they explore a role. Doing this can be the difference between losing and hanging on to a candidate. This diversity needn’t come from the cluster of people that the new hire will work with every day – though that doesn’t hurt. It could come from tapping an advisor or Board member.

While the best person for a role will ultimately be determined based on multiple variables, the tips here will help you develop a gender-diverse pipeline for a job and keep that pipeline as diverse as possible for as long as possible.

Erica Seidel along with the Polachi team recruits the rare marketing talent that you wouldn't find on your own.


Polachi is the leading provider of Access Executive Search services to technology, private equity and venture capital clients. We are a founding member of Access Search Partners, the number one global technology search partnership with offices in the US, Canada, Europe and India. We recruit key executive leaders for companies such as: Aspen Technology (AZPN), Bottomline Technologies (EPAY), Attunity (ATTU), Cognizant Technologies (CTSH), MAM Software (MAMS), Trillium Software/Harte Hanks (HHS), FleetMatics (FLTX), Lionbridge (LIOX), Sparta Systems, Sevcon (SEV), Epsilon (EPSI), Cognex (CGNX), Plug Power (PLUG), Progress Software Corporation (PRGS), Accion Systems, Glytec Systems, Mediamorph, Witricity, BlueConic, Perkins School, Knoa, Visual IQ, Zerto and many more.

We are currently working in Boston, Waltham, Woburn, Needham, Bedford, Burlington, Tewksbury, Tolland CT, Metro New York, Portsmouth, and San Diego, and would be happy to conduct your next search.

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements. 

Contact Robert by email at rhebert@stonewoodgroup.com or call (1) 416-365-9494 EXT 777