Global Leaders Series | The Boardroom and C-Suite Challenge - Gender Parity

The Boardroom and C-Suite Challenge - Gender Parity

Janice Ellig is on a mission. Described by Bloomberg Businessweek as one ‘the world’s most influential headhunters,’ she’s the CEO of Ellig Group, an executive search and leadership consulting firm that’s women-owned and led. On paper her mission is simple: to see gender parity on corporate boards and in the C-suite. In reality, she admits that this is not as simple as it sounds.

Ellig is up against what she describes as the ‘glacial rate of change’. But she’s unafraid to speed things up. “Search firms have a responsibility to take what can be a difficult stance and show their clients the positive impact of having a diversity and inclusion intention,” she asserts.

In 2011 Ellig was elected President of the Women’s Forum of New York and embarked on a significant initiative to speed up change. “The idea was to celebrate those CEOs/boards that were accelerating the pace of change for women on boards,” she explains. “So, we launched the Breakfast of Corporate Champions honouring those companies above the national S&P 500 average. This biennial event has grown to over 650 executives convening to honour and hear leading CEOs speak on the business imperative for gender parity and how to get there. It is an amazing gathering of CEOs and directors – the game changers.”

Ellig’s passion stems from the belief that organizations are doing themselves – and the broader community – a huge disservice by ignoring over 50% of the population. She is unwavering in her commitment to tap into this pipeline, saying: “The supply is there; it is a demand issue.

“However, change does not happen overnight. In 2015, I spoke and wrote about companies setting an inspirational 10-year gender parity target. A strategy set by the Committee for Economic Development in Washington D.C., of which I am a Trustee, is to fill every other open board seat with a highly qualified director – a woman. Boards can then achieve parity by 2025. You don’t need term or age limits, just follow the ‘every other one’ strategy. It is a great intentional strategy – and it works.”

Today’s workforce is also multi-generational, creating a complex work environment where Ellig Group is reimagining search to find executives that lead in new ways. “Corporations have four generations in the workforce, Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z,” continues Ellig. “This is a new phenomenon. It’s no longer about command and control; it’s about coaching and providing feedback to Millennials and incoming Gen Z employees on a daily/weekly, rather than an annual basis. It is what they look for in their careers; it is what will retain them.

“These are the future leaders of our organizations and we are reimagining leadership to stay relevant and recruit top talent. To deliver this type of leader we combine experience and great judgement with innovative technology, such as the Invenias database platform, including the online client portal.”

The firm also casts a wider net to capture diverse candidates. For example, it sponsors the CDO Summit in New York for Chief Digital Officers. Ellig explains: “A CDO today could easily be the right candidate for a CEO position tomorrow.”

The firm is built on three pillars: client experience; candidate success; diversity and inclusion. To add value, it’s augmented these pillars with critical strategic partnerships. These provide clients with a broader platform of services, such as big data/data analytics, team building, crisis management/reputational management and social media for individuals.

Ellig continues: “Our new technology underpins client experience and candidate success, but at the core of a great reputation is also an outstanding team. Our team is intellectually curious; they dig deep into what clients want – and what candidates expect. As a company, we practice the 10 Cs – Character; Courage; Commitment; Collaboration; Competencies; Confidence; Communication; Curiosity; Champions; Common Sense.

“This applies to the assignments we take on. We need to believe in the company, in the CEO, their employee commitment, their reputation and, of course, how they value diversity and inclusion. Our belief in the client and deep understanding of their business gives us the credibility to tell their story to candidates.”

And finally, we come full circle to the third pillar of the group’s business – diversity and inclusion. Ellig says: “On each assignment we provide our clients with outstanding diverse choices. And these choices represent a client’s employees, consumers, shareholders, and communities.

“The groups and forums I’m involved with are change agents accelerating the pace of change for diversity and inclusion. At some point, I would hope that we don’t need these groups because we will be a society where parity at board and C-suite level is a foregone conclusion.”

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