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“Hard work and commitment with results: success breeds success”

Ability to develop the best talents, refine businesses and create highly motivated teams, these are just some of Karen Greenbaum’s characteristics, the name in front of the entity that reunites the most renowned executive selection companies in the world, the AESC (Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants).

A great example of persistence and dedication – she began working in executive search alone, at her home office – Karen has carried out important work on diversified leadership, particularly the advancement of women in the world of business. In an exclusive interview for Dnews, she shares her experiences and skills, highlighting behaviors to accelerate gender equality, and reveals the names of some the people she admires. Get inspired!

CEOs from companies like Coca Cola, Cargill, SAP, Bank of America and consultancy firms like McKinsey and Spencer Stuart have signed an agreement with the Paradigm for Parity organisation to ensure that 50% of their leadership positions will be filled by women by 2030. I know you are also a founding member, representing the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants.  In S&P 500 companies, women currently occupy 14% of senior positions. In your opinion, what can the companies do to accelerate gender parity, particularly in executive positions?

As the President and CEO of the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants, I am proud of our global commitment to diversity. Our members value diverse leadership and identify the most qualified talent by searching and assessing without bias.  As a profession, we know that diversity enhances business results and drives innovation.

As the CEO of AESC, I represent our profession through membership of the 30% Club and as a founding member of Paradigm for Parity.  Through Paradigm for Parity, we have identified a 5 point road map that is designed to accelerate gender parity.  Top Executive Search and Leadership Consulting firms can partner with clients to make a real difference through the work we do both in finding and attracting the right talent and in other advisory services that include succession planning and internal talent assessment.

In practice, what attitudes should be taken by companies?
  1. Minimize or eliminate unconscious bias. Initiate unconscious bias training. Engage women and men at all levels, starting with the CEO and senior leadership. Ensure that your company leaders comprehend, own and address the conscious and unconscious biases that prevent women from succeeding.
  2. Significantly increase the number of women in senior operating roles. Make full gender parity (50/50) your ultimate goal. As a near term goal, target that a single gender will not account for more than 70% of a leadership level, from the Executive Management Group downward. Move to 60% as a medium term goal.
  3. Measure targets at every level and communicate progress and results regularly. Set measurable goals and hold yourself and your senior team accountable. Communicate results to your wider organization and board. Expect meaningful progress each year, with the aim of parity by 2030. Work with investors as they increase the pressure to measure and monitor diversity progress. Share statistics with other CEOs and consider publishing results over time.
  4. Base career progress on business results and performance, not on presence. Give women and men control over where and how they work, whenever workable. Acknowledge the needs and expectations of Millennials, an important talent pool. Find ways to work more flexibly to meet the needs of all employees. Create cultural change so that working flexibly is embraced, and not an underused and over talked about benefit.
  5. Identify women of potential and give them sponsors, as well as mentors. Meritocracy is an often used, and more importantly misused, belief because our biases affect our view of performance and merit. Women of all backgrounds need career sponsors and access to networks of influence. Men, who are still the majority of leadership, have a critical role to play in advocating for women, both internally and in the wider corporate world. Look for the best within your organization and help them to succeed by assigning each woman a mentor and a sponsor.
You are both an experienced leader and a female executive. Could you highlight some skills and behaviours that have been essential to your professional trajectory?

Flexibility, adaptability and agility:  willingness to try new things, open to new roles and opportunities throughout my career, ability to make quick decisions but adapt and adjust as needed.

Positive attitude:  attitude is one of the important traits/behaviors that each of us can control.  A positive attitude helps throughout your career.   Early on, it helps you to get identified and selected for new opportunities and high profile assignments.  As you develop as a leader, a positive attitude inspires the team and encourages everyone to perform their very best.

Teamwork and collaboration:  No matter how good you are, there is very little you can accomplish on your own.  I thrive on teamwork and collaboration and get my energy from working in partnership with bright and talented people with diverse points of view.  I believe the best ideas are often developed through a collaborative team-oriented approach and an environment where each person feels they can contribute, challenge and enhance common thinking.

Hard work and commitment to results:  Success breeds success.  I personally take great satisfaction in a job well done – by myself and by others.  A great strategy is nothing without strong execution and a focus on results.

You are highly-respected by professionals from around the world, but who currently inspires you and why?

First, let me say that I take my inspiration from those who are the greatest successes, the unsung heroes, and even those who inspire by providing an example of what I choose not to do. At work, I have always strived to learn from everyone at every level.  I have learned as much from my best bosses as I have from my worst.  But here are two great examples of two inspirational leaders from the past:

Nelson Mandela – he was a true inspiration, giving of himself selflessly, focused on justice and equality despite incredible adversity.  Not giving up.  Caring about not just South Africa but the world and our planet. He was a truly inspirational leader whose imprint lives on beyond his death.

Amelia Earhart – I was impressed that she was not afraid to try to do things that, as a woman, had not been done before.  She said “Please know that I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others.”

Please state a phrase or teaching that you constantly recall.

Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.




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