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Tuesday 9 March was International Women’s Day.

A handful of women provided me with almost everything I learned about agency recruitment for the first six years of my career.

I owe my start in this great industry to the four women who interviewed me for my first job at Accountancy Personnel, Victoria (London) office.

My first four managers, across four offices in two companies across two countries, were women.

I owe an enormous amount to each of these women for hiring me, investing in me, and believing in me.

In our industry, which has benefited from the equality mindset of pioneers such as V. John Plummer FRCSA (Life), is one in which women have, largely, thrived more than many other sectors of the workforce.

At one time Julia Ross was Australia’s richest self-made businesswoman thanks to the success she had in building her eponymous business support recruitment agency.

Even so, I was unsurprised to read research from Bullhorn that concluded, “Women make up 65% of the staffing industry worldwide, but only 35% of C-suite leadership.”

I suspect that any Australian-specific data would most likely reveal similar results.

The survey results had me think about the Australian recruitment industry and the many outstanding women in leadership roles who are, mostly, largely unknown to the broader industry.

For my own celebration of International Women’s Day, I decided to acknowledge twenty four current agency owners and directors who I have had the good fortune to come to know very well across the past 15 years, for their respective contributions to our industry (let alone whatever contribution they have each made to me) and the example they have each set for others to admire and follow.

Here are the first twelve women, in alphabetical order by first name. The second twelve will be featured next week (whether the person is in this week’s, or next week’s, list is purely random).

Ange Connor: After seven years as an agency employee in regional Victoria, Ange struck out on her own in 2013. Eight years later Ange’ s business Inspire HQ is the leading locally-owned  business that  provides recruitment and HR consultancy services to the greater Ballarat area. Ange has also been a councillor for the RCSA Vic/Tas Council for the past three years. Ange is one of the most modest over-achievers in our industry.

Anita Ziemer: I worked a few metres from Anita during my last stint as an employee, at Slade Group and quickly came to enormously respect her business instincts and leadership skills. Anita subsequently took over from Geoff Slade as Slade Group CEO and helped guide the business to new heights. Anita has also made a huge contribution to the broader Melbourne community through her many current, and past, non-executive board positions.

Belinda Kerr:  Belinda and I were colleagues for a couple of years at Recruitment Solutions until we left within two months of each other in 2001. Since then Belinda has founded, built, and sold her own specialist media and advertising recruitment agency; co-founded, then sold out of, a franchise recruitment business. BK (as she is affectionately known) also deserves much credit for being one of the first remote-working leaders in our industry. In 2014 BK decided that her family’s Sydney lifestyle wasn’t ideal so she and her husband relocated to the Sunshine Coast hinterland and she commuted to Sydney each week to work for two days while working the rest of the week from home. Nowadays BK works with recruitment agency owners, passing on everything she has learned about building a recruitment agency.

Caroline Walters: After nine years as an employee across three different recruitment agencies, including gaining her start at Julia Ross and spending time at HJB, Caroline started her own her recruitment agency, Retail Therapy Recruiting, specialising in recruiting for retailers, based in Sydney. There’s not much tougher gig in recruitment than being a women agency owner recruiting for the rag trade, a sector notoriously dominated by penny-pinching alpha males. After relocating to the NSW southern highlands Caroline continued her business remotely and saw an opportunity to expand her business into healthcare. The Prodigy People brand was launched in November 2019 with Caroline quickly building a successful business that impacts her local community.

Catherine Kennedy: This year Cath celebrates her 15th year at people2people, a company she joined as a trainee back in 20016. Cath’s leadership capabilities has seen her rise, via five promotions, through the company to her current role as Director – New South Wales. Cath is a member of the company’s female-majority board and she is operationally responsible for the company’s largest division.

Erin Devlin Formerly a professional dancer with both the Australian Ballet and West Australian Ballet, Erin started her recruitment in early 2007. Three years late Erin started her own agency, and five years later merged it with people2people’s business to become the P2p Victoria, Managing Director. Across her initial seven years in the recruitment industry Erin also attained her B.Bus at Monash Uni; a Grad. Cert. in Business & Sports Management (with a High Distinction and place on the Dean’s Honours List) and completed her Australian Institute of Company Directors certification (GAICD). In 2017 Erin won the RCSA Professional Recruiter of the Year. In 2019 Erin became the mother of twins. In 2020 she was elected RCSA Vic/Tas Chairperson and next month Erin will publish her first book. Erin is currently in discussions with Elon Musk to open the first recruitment agency on Mars (I made that last bit up, but nothing would surprise me when it comes to Erin).

Jacky Carter: Jacky joined Hays (then Accountancy Personnel) in London during 1987. Transferring to Australia in 1989 Jacky fulfilled a number of recruitment leadership roles before, in 2002, being offered the opportunity to establish and build the RPO side of the Hays business across ANZ and Asia, which she undertook concurrently with the role of Marketing Director, Asia Pacific. Currently, Jacky’s role is Group Digital Engagement Director, a role charged with providing an industry-leading online capability and customer experience for Hays globally. Staffing Industry Analysts recently acknowledged Jacky’s global industry leadership with a spot (the only Australian) on their 2020 Global Power 150 Women in Staffing list.

Liza Viz Elizabeth Vizirgianakis is of Greek ethnicity, who was raised in South Africa and then built her recruitment career in New Zealand. In 2008, after an 11-year career with Hudson, Liza joined Beyond Holdings as a Director and concurrently took over as Chief Executive of Beyond Recruitment. Liza is one of the hardest working, appreciative, and most astute leaders I have had the privilege of calling a client. Liza demands a lot but gives even more back in return and what person doesn’t feel more capable, valued, and motivated when they experience that from a leader or client?

Manda Milling: Manda co-founded people2people together with Simon Gressier, Mark Smith, and Greg Savage. Mark and Greg are the people you most often publicly hear associated with p2p however Manda’s contribution to the success of the business is not under-rated by those who know the full story. Manda’s uncompromising ethics, astute mind, and her commercial, yet caring, approach have been integral foundations of the p2p culture. The many talented female leaders who have built their careers at p2p have been fortunate to have Manda showing the way for them over the company’s 17-year life.

Nicole Underwood: When I first met Nicole in 1998 (I was recruiting for new consultants to join me in the establishment of the Recruitment Solutions new Adelaide office) I was immediately blown away because Nicole had already purchased her first home, at the age of 21! Nicole’s drive has manifested itself in the establishment and building of the Entrée Recruitment business for Mark Hender and then, in 2011, the founding of her own business, now known as Underwood Executive. Nicole has cut through the old-school male network that dominates the senior echelons of business and politics in conservative Adelaide to build a highly-respected search firm. In each of the past three years, Underwood Executive has beaten all the high profile recruitment and search firms to be named Executive Recruiter of the Year by HRD Magazine, the only such award in this country to be decided solely on client voting. In the 2020 HRD awards Nicole’s firm was awarded a total of nine medals including four gold medals. In 2019 Underwood Executive was accepted into the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC) – a global industry profession that sets the highest quality standards in executive search and leadership consulting worldwide. Nicole served four years on the RCSA SA Council between 2011 and 2015 and is a regular, and highly-rated, speaker on recruitment and leadership issues, both locally and nationally.

Sharon Vandermeer I have had the privilege of knowing Sharon for fifteen years, having worked with her as her coach for over half that time. Sharon is truly one of the outstanding people in our industry, having recently celebrated her company’s  30th anniversary. Multiple nominations in the SEEK Australian Recruitment Awards (SARAs) and the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year Award are wider acknowledgments of Sharon’s leadership and impact. Sharon’s passion for never-ending improvement and innovation, obvious to me in our coaching work together, is best seen through her creation of humourous videos she uses to promote, via social media, her clients’ jobs in different parts of the country. If you knew all the many and varied challenges Sharon has overcome in her thirty years as a business owner (just ask Sharon for some stories if you are ever lucky enough to meet her) I am sure you would, like me, hold Sharon in the highest regard.

Susie Rogers “Susie stays connected and engaged with me in a way no other recruiter does. Susie is warm, engaging, perceptive, and has great technical skills in understanding and communicating a job, and the client expectations that surround the job. Susie is the best recruiter I have ever dealt with”. This would be a quote that would make me take notice no matter who uttered it but when the person doing so is my wife, who was a demanding recruitment agency leader for ten years and has spent the subsequent 12 years in corporate recruitment and HR leadership roles, then I pay special attention. A fellow Taswegian, of origin, Susie has recently topped thirty years in the industry. This May is the 25th anniversary of Susie opening her own business, Rusher Rogers, in Melbourne.  Susie has recruited across a range of industries, more recently specialising in the not-for-profit sector. I’m truly proud to be in the same industry that produces such outstanding practitioners as Susie Rogers.

17 Comments

  1. David Stewart on 11/03/2021 at 8:27 am

    One of your best blogs to date Ross! Hats off to these amazing women and respect for their achievements.

    • Ross Clennett on 11/03/2021 at 11:52 am

      Thanks, David, I’m glad you appreciated it.

  2. Susie Rogers on 11/03/2021 at 8:33 am

    Thank you Ross (and Michelle), I am feeling greatly honoured and humbled in equal measure to even be considered as a part of this illustrious group of women…I can’t wait to see the next 12. We all work so so hard to do what we do, it is so rewarding to have that commitment recognised and celebrated. Congratulations to all of these 23 other deserving professionals of which I know there are many many more. Thank you Ross this means so much especially coming from such a respected industry commentator and of course fellow Taswegian!

    • Ross Clennett on 12/03/2021 at 1:14 pm

      Maybe I need to do some research and create a Taswegian-of-origin list, Susie 🙂

  3. Anthony Whyte on 11/03/2021 at 9:02 am

    Great article Ross and a very impressive list of leading women in our industry. Also a huge shout-out to Nicole Underwood who is a true gem.

    • Ross Clennett on 11/03/2021 at 11:53 am

      Thanks, Anthony. I am sure the whole Adelaide market knows of Nicole.

    • Nicole Underwood on 26/03/2021 at 3:44 pm

      Oh thanks Anthony! 🙂

  4. Dmitri Goloub on 11/03/2021 at 10:02 am

    Great article and timing, Ross!

    Humbly, I’d like also like to add to the list and nominate the below outstanding women leaders in our industry:

    Clare McCartin of Davidson Executive

    Rebecca Wallace of Launch Recruitment

    Romy Panzera of NTT Workforce Solutions

    • Ross Clennett on 12/03/2021 at 1:23 pm

      Thanks, Dmitri, based on similar feedback I invite you (any reader, actually) to nominate (along with a three or four-sentence bio) women you think should be highlighted.
      Despite my advanced years and long tenure I only know a small minority of the fabulous women in our industry!

  5. Belinda Kerr on 11/03/2021 at 12:50 pm

    Very humbled to see my name appear as I read through your article Ross. What a great article and an inspiration for the other gals in our industry. Thank you for the acknowledgement, BK.

    • Ross Clennett on 12/03/2021 at 1:26 pm

      Thanks for your ongoing example, BK. Your journey is definitely one to be acknowledged and celebrated.

  6. Jason Elias on 18/03/2021 at 10:20 am

    Great insights Ross. This industry needs to celebrate our great professionals. What wonderful role models.

    • Ross Clennett on 26/03/2021 at 3:53 pm

      They are that, Jason.

  7. Anita Ziemer on 18/03/2021 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Ross,
    Lindsay Craig kindly sent me the link today – thanks for the shout out. The feeling’s mutual – although not you as a woman:) I learned so much from you about your disciplined approach to your every day and still cite that to others. Nice to know I’ve made a different to our [email protected] Kind regards,
    Anita

    • Ross Clennett on 26/03/2021 at 3:55 pm

      Thanks, Anita, I may not have been as naturally suited to recruitment as others so I attempted to bridge the gap by maximising my daily effectiveness.

  8. Bob Olivier on 18/03/2021 at 9:41 pm

    I know I’m biased but I’d have Helen Olivier in any Top 10. First Associate Director at Hays Australia, retrenched on maternity leave, started Olivier Group in the recession we had to have, BRW Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies 5 years in succession, finalist Telstra Business Woman of the Year, RSCSA Board Director for ten years, high performance netball coach and a very nice person

    • Ross Clennett on 19/03/2021 at 2:06 pm

      I agree, Bob, Helen would be in my Top 10 if that was the purpose of the list I was compiling. I intentionally avoided labels such as ‘top’ or ‘best’ in categorising the women I profiled in these two blogs.

      I was deliberate in not profiling female RCSA Life Members or female RCSA National board directors, (past or present) as these (many outstanding) women are already well known in the industry (as much as anybody can be ‘well known’ in our industry). My intention was to profile other outstanding women who I knew well and who, in my view, were worthy of bringing to the attention of a wider audience.

      Thanks for your interest in this series.

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