“There's never been a better time for women who are working in finance,” declares Heather Hammond, the area manager of the New York and Stamford offices of executive search consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

Because of the spotlight trained on the talent shortage in finance and an ever-increasing recognition of the innovation-driving boost that diversity can bring to a business, “there is a mandate by our clients to ensure that our slates [of candidates] are diverse,” Hammond shares. “Companies are saying to us: ‘we want at least half of the slate to include women.' "

Expanding the parameters

In order to deliver on this demand, however, Hammond conveys to her clients that the traditional boundaries of executive search may be too narrow to bring in that diverse pool of talent they desire. “The only way to push for a gender-balanced slate of candidates is by finding and pursuing creative solutions,” she explains. “If you can't find women in the obvious paths and the obvious areas, you need to get more creative around where you find them. For example, if we're doing an investment banking search and the ranks of investment banks are thinly populated with senior women, then we collectively need to go outside those general boundaries to find senior women in places like corporate development or in equity research.”

A key aspect of this expansion, Hammond adds, is committing to a new mindset about the search so that candidates found outside of traditional parameters don’t feel like a “plan B.”

Establishing strong relationships

“...head down, do your job is no longer acceptable... you need to be out there networking, building relationships, taking meetings with potential employers.”

Another way in which financial organizations can commit to gender-balance in the top ranks of leadership is by reconsidering the timeline of a search. Though Hammond is careful not to overgeneralize, she notes that throughout her 15 years in executive search, many of the women she’s worked with “tend to be very loyal to their organizations and tend to be very relationship-oriented.” These traits can stand at odds with the traditional recruitment process, which often happens swiftly and can feel, as Hammond puts it, “transactional.”

She shares, “We're looking to fill a position and then everyone moves on. Women don't always want to feel like they are part of a transactional process. They want to join people in organizations with whom they have long-term relationships.”

Placing a woman in a leadership role, therefore, might require a protracted effort. “I often guide my clients,” Hammond says, “to build networks of relationships with women over two, three year timeframes and have much more of a long-term mindset.”

Networking for success 

Hammond advises women looking to move up the ladder in finance to be aware of their role in this relationship-building and recruitment process, noting that though “technology tools have helped increase the transparency around finding people, at the end of the day we find people based on references in the market.”

This means that for today’s women in finance, “head down, do your job is no longer acceptable.” Instead, she urges, “you need to be out there networking, building relationships, taking meetings with potential employers. Even if the probability of your making a move is low, that network effect is incredibly important.”