Leading She Interviews Janice Ellig

Janice Ellig is CEO of the Ellig group, known as “The Closer”, she is one of the top recruiters in the country specializing in the placement of executive women in C-suites and on corporate boards. She says that though there has been gender parity progress, it is still an issue at the top corporate levels and on corporate boards. Janice points out that statistics prove out that better decision-making happens and corporations are more successful when leadership and corporate boards are diverse. There are some great messages from Janice in this episode as she talks about brand, persistence, confidence and continually reinventing ourselves. She says we must take responsibility for having our voices heard and making sure our facts are correct otherwise it could affect our credibility. What a great episode with Janice Ellig!

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Janice Ellig on the Origin of Ellig Group’s DEI Priorities

It goes back to how I was raised. And I’m the youngest of three girls, and my mother, when I was ten years of age, said, I want to give you three major pieces of wise advice: love what you do, be financially independent, and stay close to your sisters.

That’s also what led me to co-author What Every Successful Woman Knows. It was about women really having a voice at the table and a mother who worked. We didn’t come from money, but we had love around the table, and education was a big factor. And I carried that into the corporate world. When I was leading HR at Pfizer and Citi, I was always trying to hire the best talent, and very often that talent is a woman or person of color, LGBTQ or any underrepresented group. And then with my executive search business, I could really make a difference in working with clients, showing them a highly diverse slate of outstanding talent that just happened to be women and those not yet represented in the highest ranks of corporate America. So that’s the genesis of how this firm operates and has operated for many years.

Janice Ellig on Diversity as a Competitive Advantage

CEOs and boards know that it is a strategic business imperative that women represent your employees, your shareholders, your consumers, and the communities in which you operate. And you want us in the boardroom because we are a competitive advantage in the world in which you operate.

When decisions are made by a very homogeneous group, what you get is groupthink. But if you have a heterogeneous group there, you’re going to get diverse experiences and much better decisions. And through the financial crisis and through the pandemic, the statistics would show that companies with 30% or more women on their boards, did better year-over-year in performance than those with less than 30%. The business case studies of Deloitte, McKinsey, Peterson Institute, Credit Suisse Research Institute, all indicate that greater diversity, particularly of women, correlates with greater financial performance and better reputation. So why wouldn’t you want to represent your employees, your customers, your communities and your shareholders?

The decision making part really is key. There’s a book by Professor Scott Page of the University of Michigan, which says that a less skilled, more heterogeneous group makes better decisions than a more skilled, homogeneous group. So whether it’s causation or correlation, I don’t think it even matters. Do better companies have more women on their boards? Or does having more women on your boards make for better companies? The facts are what they are.

Janice Ellig on Diverse Candidates and Corporate Social Values

If women or minority candidates do not see people like them at the top in the boardroom, in the C-suite, they’re not attracted to those companies. And S [Social] is really becoming the important letter in ESG [Environmental, Social, and Governance]. The younger generation is not flocking to those companies that [ignore social issues]. They’re not going to buy the stock. Visionary companies know you cannot ignore those constituents.

Janice Ellig on DEI

Diversity is a measure, inclusion is a skill.

I love the quote by Warren Buffett where he says one of the reasons he’s been so successful is he only had to compete with half the population. He said his sisters would have been much more successful, but they weren’t competing with him.

Janice Ellig on Her Personal Experience With Gender Bias

I can remember being clearly very much in line for a promotion at one of the organizations I worked for. I won’t name it now, but I didn’t work at too many. They chose a gentleman who was much older than I was. He was probably nearing retirement age and didn’t have quite the skills I had, but he had been working there a long time. He had the tenure, and he was selected. My boss had been very supportive of me, and I was sure he was going to make sure that I got it. And he goes, “Janice, I really couldn’t do anything about it. The corporate people in charge of HR at the time said, no, they really needed to take, let’s call him Bill. So that was a signal to me. I realized it made no difference how hard I worked. It was a very telling moment, and I left. I went and found another position and did very well there.I went on to take a company public and did very well there as head of HR at a publicly traded company. But I think when you get a signal like that, you have to pay attention to it and you have to look around and say, maybe this is not the culture, the environment for me. I didn’t blame anybody. I just said, okay, this is not where I belong.

Janice Ellig on Workplace Sponsorship

You have to make sure that you have sponsors, not just mentors. Women have to make sure that they are being seen and recognized and given opportunities. I remember Dina Dublon when she was at JPMorgan Chase. When they were doing performance reviews, the CEO would say, “Well, I don’t know that woman.” And Dina would say, “no, you don’t, but you’re going to, because I’m making her a managing director. I’m giving her some choice assignments. I’m going to make sure that as we go through performance reviews going forward, everybody around this table knows many of the women that I am promoting.”

I think that oftentimes women don’t have those choice assignments or they didn’t get noticed because Bill didn’t know who Sally was, but he knew who Bob was. So it’s really incumbent upon all women and men to make sure that we really make it a level playing field so that women don’t have to put in all that extra facetime just to get on the radar. I do think the opportunities are there for men and women to take on more responsibilities. So a woman has to also be qualified for the role.

When you look at the current female CEOs running corporate America, there are about 40. One is Corie Barry, who took over for Best Buy when Hubert Jolie retired. But he made sure that Corie was one of several people that were bench strength for him. And Corie, like others, had to sit in many different seats, because you don’t want any CEO coming in and not having run different pieces of the business. So you have to have that P&L responsibility with those roles. You have the functional roles, including HR or marketing, and you have to sit in a lot of different seats, so you really understand how to run a business.

Tricia Griffith, President & CEO at Progressive is another example. She sat in many seats, including HR, and she was ready when her CEO retired, to take over. So I think part of a woman’s role is to make sure that she has that visibility. She’s sitting in a lot of different seats, and she can aspire to the highest possible levels. On the other hand, companies and boards have to make sure that the CEO is building bench strength under him or her, and giving individuals those opportunities to have those different roles so that they will be able to take over. I think it’s a two way street.

Janice Ellig on the Difference Between Mentors and Sponsors

The mentor is really making sure that you get that feedback and advice. The sponsor is putting his or her name behind you for that next role so that you can take on additional responsibilities. The mentors may be making sure that you have those skills and experiences, but that sponsor is signing you up. It’s similar to what we’re doing at the Women’s Forum of NY. We started a database ten years ago where we asked you to sponsor a woman for a board seat. This database exists within the Women’s Forum but is also exported to Equilar, so if somebody subscribes to Equilar, you can get the names there too. The sponsor has to be a CEO or board chair who understands that woman’s capabilities and is saying, “She is board-ready, and I’m endorsing her. My name is here. She should be on a board, even though she’s not on the board just yet. She works with my board. She works with other boards that I’ve seen her on as an advisor, maybe even in a not-for-profit. But the bottom line is that she’s “board-ready.” That’s sponsorship. You’re really the seal of approval.

Janice Ellig on Personal Branding for Women

I think everybody should be their authentic self to begin with. But I will say that you definitely have to adapt yourself as well to certain situations. So, for instance, if I’m going to be calling on a company in a different part of the country, and it’s maybe more of a blue collar situation, or I’m calling on individuals at a very high-tech company, I may dress somewhat differently than I typically do just to adapt. Yes, I’m not changing who I am, but I’m adapting to that social situation almost out of respect for that company and those individuals there. We are all raised a certain way. I look at some women who have these really dynamic personalities. They can tell a story and a joke like nobody else. That’s not me. Yes, I have my own sense of humor. I try to maximize whatever my strengths are. Women, and men as well, just need to maximize what is unique about them.

When you try to look at yourself, you don’t always see yourself clearly. So I advise women to have an advisory board, people who can give them good feedback. You do have to be very careful about who you give that power to; it should be people you trust, people you know, who have your best interest at heart, but they’ll tell you that dress on you looks terrible, they’ll be honest with you and give you the good, honest feedback so that you can improve. Right. And so I think that getting feedback from individuals you trust helps you to improve yourself and also to maximize your strengths.

Janice Ellig on How to Prepare for a Zoom Interview

When our candidates are going to be on Zoom, we give them a checklist of what to look for and how to make sure the lighting is right. We tell them to test the equipment in advance, whether it be a board role or whatever. And I’ve had my clients sometimes say “This person really didn’t look like they put themselves together at all.” And it’s not that you have to be totally buttoned up, but you should be somewhat respectful. You’re presenting yourself. And if it’s for a particular role with a company, take the time to do a little bit of the hair, a little bit of the makeup, or whatever. And this goes for men as well.

Janice Ellig on Participating in Boys’ Club Social Activities

I grew up in sports. I went to a Big Ten school, so I participated there. Always went to the football games, wrestling, basketball. I play golf. I think that it’s important to be part of those circles, whether it be actively participating in the sport or actively participating in the conversation. My husband loves women’s basketball and I do watch it with him. And so I think that [women] should be somewhat knowledgeable about sports. If you play a sport, tennis or whatever, participate. When I was at Citibank, we would have these off-sites, where it was usually all men and me, and we’d go out and golf. I was anxious, but I participated. And I was not a great golfer, but I wasn’t in a Pro-Am or anything. We were just part of the group. So I think it’s important for women to participate.

I think it’s important for women to have a seat at the table and not always wait to be invited. As the late NY Congressperson Shirley Chisholm said, even bring your folding chair, but get into the conversation. And I don’t think you have to be a subject matter expert, but you can be a great listener. You can ask great questions and people like that. You cannot ignore the power of the rules having been made by men for so many years, but you can help change those rules, as I mentioned. When women get left out of these activities, I don’t think that men are doing it out of any kind of vindictiveness; sometimes it’s just they’re not aware.

Janice Ellig On Women Having Their Voices Heard

It’s what everybody talks about: a woman says something, and then nobody listens to her, and then the man at the table says the same thing and everybody listens to him. I think you just have to speak up, and you have to speak up with confidence. Speaking up with your opinion is one thing, but if you’re going to speak up with any facts, they better be actual and true. So make sure that you’re very intelligent and informed about the facts, and then you can give your opinion as well. But speak up and speak up again. If they didn’t hear you the second time, speak up the third time.

Janice Ellig on Women and Self-Promotion

I’m not somebody who loves people who self-promote. I think people should know what you have done and accomplished. When we do references on candidates, they’ll say, “so-and-so is the smartest person in the room, but you’d never know it.” People do recognize talent. So I always say it’s great for women to promote others who will then promote them. So if you’re always singing the praises of others, they’re going to sing your praises, so you don’t have to beat your chest for yourself. I don’t think that that’s attractive, nor do I think it’s very productive.

Janice Ellig on the Women’s Forum of New York Breakfast of Corporate Champions and Boardroom Gender Parity Benchmarks

We honor companies that are above the national average of the S&P 500 in terms of percentage of women on their boards. In November 2021, we honored the 243 S&P 500 and Fortune 1000 companies that had 35% or more women on their boards. At the time, the average for the S&P 500 was 30%, so we went 5% more. Now, next time we do it, which will be 2023 – it’s probably going to be at 40% – that number of invitees is going to drop. We’re getting there, but still, progress is not quick enough. We should be accelerating the pace of change, not at 2% more women on boards each year; it should be more like 4%. We need not go to two percentage points, but four percentage points if we’re going to get to at least over 40% by 2025. 50% was the starting goal ten years ago, but now we only have three more years, so it’s going to be very hard. But even if you get over 40%, that would be good. So I think that progress is being made. I think that intentionality and focus will drive that percentage higher. And that’s the only thing that’s going to do it. Every CEO and every board director, particularly the chair, has to make it a personal objective, just as they do for financial results. They need to do that for diversity results.

A friend of mine talks about ROD, Return on Diversity. Like ROI for investment. It’s a personal objective for me in our firm, Ellig Group, to make sure that our placement rate is above 80% women and underrepresented groups in the C-suite and the boardroom. If you make it personal, it happens. And if you measure it, it happens.

Janice Ellig on the Future of Ellig Group

We are actually expanding by the types of services we’re offering to clients, forming an ecosystem that includes strategic partners. These partners can provide our clients with AI, with data analytics, with in-depth assessments, with leadership development and training. Things that will really enhance the cultures of our clients and help companies with not just the diversity factor, but the inclusion factor as well. If you have a data analytics company that can scrape the universe and tell an organization what their employees are really thinking, forget what’s on Glassdoor, but scraping the universe of everything that’s out there, or what their customers are really saying about them, they can really improve the culture and they can improve what they’re providing to their clients and their investors in their communities. So, again, those four legs of the stool, the employees, the customers, the communities, and the investors. I think it’s really valuable if we can open the aperture to say, “this is how you’re viewed by your constituents”. Then we have the training and development, helping to really make leaders better at what they do. So besides doing executive search for the boardroom and the C-suite, we will offer to our clients services to further enhance organizational culture, provided by our strategic alliances and partnerships, as part of the ecosystem.