Challenging Bias in Executive Search

Article written by Suzie Karkoulas - Principal Consultant

With International Womens Day iwd2021 on Monday 8th March, I want to share my thoughts on a topic I am so passionate about.

I continue to have the same conversation with clients.

Here’s the crux: If you want a true gender balance at leadership level, help the situation by growing your own.

It’s that simple.

Having worked in Executive Search in Architecture for 7 years, I have had thousands of conversations about diversity and equality.

Why? Diversity in leadership is seen as progressive and it is the progressive firms that are attracting the best young talent.

Diversity also welcomes a range of genders and ages at leadership level, collaborating together.
Seeing great women becoming successful within an organisation is a source of inspiration and motivation for all staff. It should also be noted that “success” is unique to each individual. The talented Abbie Galvin mentioned in a talk today that we need to really think about what a ‘leader’ looks like in he sense of how they work. Can leaders work part time or from home?
I #choosetochallenge what leadership opportunities can look like when consulting with Architectural practices.
It is not hard, but it does require a self-assessment and the willingness to change.

Step 1: Take a long hard look at your own organisation, recognise conscious or unconscious bias and take every step to address any internal issues.

Your culture cannot change unless your leaders actively champion and encourage it.

Step 2: Actively work on creating an environment that fosters meaningful careers for all and ensure internal dialogue is gender and age positive.

Step 3: Offer the same mentoring, opportunities and flexibility to all staff.

Step 4: Hire and promote based on skills and experience.

This is not about women receiving more advantages, it is just giving every individual the opportunity to succeed in their career and enjoy the equality that we all strive for.

Essentially, companies should promote and hire people based on their expertise and skills, not gender.
When searching for new talent for senior roles, however, there is a lack of suitable female candidates.

Recent statistics found women comprised only 25% per cent of registered architects. Only 14% practice partners are women, despite an almost 50/50 representation at university. This is likely due to the structure of the industry, which unfortunately is not conducive to women requiring flexible work arrangements. I agree that not everybody wants to go into leadership however does being a leader have to mean choosing between career and family?

In this post Covid world where so many of us were thrust into new ways of working, should we really be judging contribution to an architectural practice by how many hours we put in at the studio?
One of the biggest challenges women face in career progression across all industries is the career break when taking maternity leave. Returning to the workplace can be hard when expectations remain unchanged. It is particularly difficult in the architecture industry where long working hours have been the norm. Childcare should be a shared responsibility and the same flexible working arrangements should be offered, and encouraged for men.

So, what can we all do? Speak up!

We need to be the change we want to see.

Encourage flexibility for working parents, hire purely on skills and experience, not age or gender.

Encourage honest conversations and challenge internal biases.

Commit to changing from a grass roots level as well as from the top down.

Whatever you do, #speakup

What will you #ChoosetoChallenge ?

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