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With the Old-Boy Network Dying, Women Rise in Recruiting Field

November 17, 1996|DENISE HAMILTON | Denise Hamilton is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles

When Janet Tweed started in the executive search field 25 years ago, some clients assumed she was the recruiter's wife.

"They'd ask if my husband was coming to the meeting. And I'd say; 'Not today. Today you've got me,' " recalls Tweed, one of the leading women in executive search. Her New York-based Gilbert Tweed Associates, whose clients include Pepsi, had revenue of about $7.5 million last year.

The profession has changed radically since the days when women recruiters were mistaken for wives, secretaries and coffee fetchers: In 1982, women made up only 12% of recruiters nationwide, according to Executive Recruiter News, an industry newsletter. Today they account for close to 35% and their numbers are growing.

Female recruiters can earn from $50,000 to $250,000 a year. Those who work on a contingency basis, which means they are paid only if the person they find is hired, tend to earn less. Those who are on retainer, and who are paid regardless of their search results, tend to earn more.

Additional opportunities for female recruiters are being created as many of the older men who were pioneers in the field retire.

"It's an excellent field for women to get into," says Tom Rodenhauser, managing editor of Executive Recruiter News. "Search is a first-generation business and the changing of the guard is occurring right now."

"There's still an old-boy network, but it's old and it's dying," says Dale Winston, the female founder and president of Battalia Winston International, an executive search firm in New York. "Clients want to hire based on your knowledge and expertise, and they really don't care about gender."

Today, many corporations interested in a diverse work force seek out female recruiters on the theory that women can do a better job attracting female and minority candidates.

Others turn to women-owned executive search firms for less enlightened reasons.

"Companies have quotas they need to meet in terms of hiring service firms owned by women and minorities. We meet that requirement," says Susan Bishop, owner of Bishop Partners Ltd. in New York. "That's not a great reason to use us, but that's a reality."

Some barriers remain. Even top women in the executive search field say it's rare to win the most lucrative and high-profile contracts--those to find board members or chief executives for Fortune 500 companies. But they say there is ample opportunity to succeed despite that.

"There are many million-dollar billers among women, and you can certainly have a lucrative and productive search career without doing those" Fortune 500 searches, says Millie McCoy, a co-founder of Gould, McCoy & Chadick, a search firm in New York.

Obviously, partners at large firms and those with their names on the office door make more money. For those at the top, such as Claudia Kelly of Spencerstuart in New York, recruiting is an all-consuming job that requires long hours, extensive travel and being on call around the clock.

"I took a call last year on a nature walk with my child's school," Kelly says. "Here I was trying to close a deal, standing in the woods with my cell phone like an idiot."

For those who are still interested in breaking into the field, industry executives say there are two ways to go.

Traditionally, women have started in the research departments of recruitment firms and worked their way up. In-house research jobs pay about $30,000 a year. A growing number of firms now employ freelance research consultants who charge by the hour and do everything in the search except close the deal.

Many successful recruiters, however, suggest a different strategy. They recommend that women start by working in an industry for five years to develop an area of expertise such as retailing, consumer products or telecommunications. Armed with extensive knowledge and contacts, they are then poised to make the jump to the ranks of specialized recruiters.

That's what Linda Bialecki did. Bialecki, whose New York firm, Bialecki Inc., specializes in Wall Street searches for investment bankers, has a Stanford MBA and worked at a commercial bank before moving into a junior consultant job at a small search firm. She then opened her own company. For her, being a woman in a male-dominated world has been mostly positive.

"Clients will talk to you about stuff they would never tell a man, so you get to understand how an organization really works and what they need, which means you have the information to do a better job," Bialecki says.

Markus Rohrbasser, chairman of UBS Asset Management, a Swiss bank that has worked with Bialecki's company, agrees.

"A woman can probably convince a senior professional to let his hair down more easily than another man," says Rohrbasser. "I've watched Linda talk to people and soon they're telling her their life stories. She has an excellent ability to gain the confidence of people who give her assignments, and she spends time listening."

"A really good search person also needs to be a really good psychiatrist," says Bialecki, "And that comes a little easier to women than to some men."

For more information, contact one of the industry trade groups, which include the Assn. of Executive Search Consultants in New York, whose member firms work on a retainer basis. The number is (212) 398-9556. The International Assn. of Corporate and Professional Recruitment in Chicago, which is made up of individual executives in the retained search and human resources fields, can be reached at (847) 441-1644.

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