International Women’s Day, 2022

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we are delighted to share this interview with Helen Cottle, one of the Partners at Bronzegate. We discussed female leadership and representation in the executive search industry, as well as her experience with clients when it comes to diversity for senior finance appointments. We hope you enjoy this Q&A and we wish you a very happy International Women’s Day!

What does your role entail here, at Bronzegate? 

I joined Bronzegate during the pandemic in June 2020 because I felt incredibly aligned to the businesses values and ambition and it gave me the opportunity to evolve from operational recruitment into a role with a greater focus on people leadership.

As a Partner at Bronzegate, I lead Research & Delivery as well as our business operations. At its core, my role is about supporting each member of the team to reach their fullest potential so we in turn operate at the highest quality possible for our clients. A leadership role often requires navigating a complex set of challenges. Personally, I rely not just on technical experience and best practice, but on my intuition as well.

What does IWD mean to you?


For me, it is a day of celebrating all the incredible women achieving amazing things, particularly those who have advocated for and helped improve equality for women. It is not just a day of reflection but action too, since even in 2022 we still haven’t achieved equal rights for women and girls everywhere. We are fortunate in the UK that the disparity is closing, but in many countries around the world the difference in rights and opportunities is staggering. A collective effort is needed globally to #BreakTheBias which is this year’s campaign. We are each accountable for how we act, so let’s make our actions count and reject gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping.


With 13 years in the industry, would you say recruitment / executive search is male dominated?


I have worked for a FTSE 250, a large privately owned recruitment business and a boutique executive search firm, three very different businesses. But, yes, it would be fair to say recruitment has the perception of being male-dominated. Whilst, we are no longer in the era of the aggressive sales-floor, misogyny and backslapping, the more senior you become, the more likely the industry is dominated by male executives. You only need to look at the Board of Directors and/or Executive Committee of the biggest recruitment and executive search businesses in the UK to see there is still a lot to be done when it comes to gender equality at the executive level in the industry.


What is your experience with clients, when it comes to diversity?


We are increasingly being asked to present gender diverse shortlists by the vast majority of our clients, and I applaud the commitment businesses are taking to increase diversity amongst their senior executives. Sadly, it isn’t that simple. Closing the talent gap and ensuring a high representation of female leaders at the executive level starts with giving greater opportunities to women in entry or mid-level management positions, which is already lacking. It requires a prolonged commitment from male and female leaders to identify the barriers facing women entering leadership roles and commit to breaking those barriers down. It all comes down to action. What action are businesses taking to bolster their pipeline of female talent? There are some brilliant initiatives aimed to elevate the profiles of female leaders but more is needed.

There has been significant research on female leaders and their style and effectiveness. What would you say sets us, women, apart in the workplace when it comes to leadership style?


Historically, women were perceived as less effective leaders than men… not only exasperating, this isn’t actually true. There has been significant research conducted on this very topic and some of these statistics should resonate with all business leaders, who should sit up and take notice:


  • Employees who work for a female manager are six times more engaged, on average, than those who work for a male manager
  • On average, having women in leadership positions aligned with a 15% increase in profitability
  • Unleashing the full potential of women in the workplace could be worth £23 billion to the economy

There are certain areas of leadership where women really shine and studies have shown that once in a leadership role, women excel because they have developed the softer skills needed for effective leadership. I certainly identify with some of these areas, particularly around empathy, communication and listening. Providing emotional support and checking in on employee well-being is as important as driving hard for results. One should not exist without the other, they should be mutually inclusive.

As the person responsible for internal hiring, how do you consider diversity and inclusion within Bronzegate?


Ensuring equality in the workplace can not be solely driven by one person, or one gender. Recognising that men are allies in this and that they need to push this agenda is just as important. Bronzegate is a business that celebrates a diverse and gender balanced workforce and this starts from the top down. I am immensely proud to work for a business like that.

As a leader in this business I feel a great sense of responsibility to cultivate an environment that gives all my team a platform for a successful career and that will always be based on providing equal opportunities to all of them. In my experience of hiring recruiters and researchers it is the commitment, drive and determination that sets them apart in the hiring process and is the foundation for a successful career.


Do you think it is important for women to have a role model?

I think it is incredibly important. Positive role models are essential for our development as individuals at all stages of life. As my career developed, I certainly modeled some of my behaviors on those I saw as influential in the workplace. To me the very best are always those who influence and lead by example.

I was very fortunate to work for an exceptional female leader at the start of my career and I can honestly say that has shaped who I am in the workplace today. Why was she exceptional? She led by example, she celebrated our successful milestones but pushed us when she knew we had more to give. Consequently this shaped the expectations I had on myself and what I could achieve, in a positive way.

I often think about what it means to be a role model and this quote from a blog I read really resonated with me “role models provide a vision, and visual proof, for who we aspire to be”. If the younger generation of women don’t see someone like them in positions of leadership, what message are we sending to them?

Are there any initiatives or organisations that you are involved with and would like to highlight on this International Women’s Day?

One of the charities that I support is Plan International, a global children’s charity. A significant part of their work focuses on creating an equal world for girls – including here in the UK. Their “Because I am a Girl” campaign allows these brave young women and girls to have a voice on issues that they should never have to experience like child marriage & trafficking or sexual exploitation at work and most crucially, this is a youth-led initiative. For more information on these incredible youth activists visit their website, by clicking here.


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