Diversity & Inclusion, Recruiting

Women as Fractional Executives

Because the impact of COVID-19 will be felt long term, many companies are being forced to revisit their hiring practices while simultaneously scrambling to pivot and redesign their products or services to respond to shifting customer needs. This constant shift and changing environment influence both company strategy and leadership requirements in an ever-changing and unpredictable world. The new normal is now “living in flux.”

Take, for example, any of these budget-related hiring problems:

  • Your business has been operating at 50% capacity for over 1 year now, and you are ready to ramp back up but don’t have a sense of the market after such a shake-up. You need a CMO but can’t afford to hire a full-time C-suite executive.
  • You are a start-up that is ready to scale but are not ready to hire a full-time executive or offer equity.
  • You are a company battling the uncertain economics of the pandemic and want to be conservative in your return to hiring. Most of your senior leadership was let go, and you don’t know where to start.
  • You are a small company that is ready to meet your growth objectives but don’t have the capacity to hire a senior leader full time to get you there.

The Solution

Fractional executives. Fractional executives are just that—senior leaders who bring in their expertise to provide a solution to address a specific company pain point or function. Most often, these executives have held prior senior executive or C-suite roles and can offer high-level strategy and planning expertise.

Fractional executives are high-level consultants who can bring cutting-edge strategy to your company, as the very nature of their short-term role keeps them abreast of industry trends. They can serve to fill in hiring gaps for smaller companies, as well as offer one of the most cost-effective ways for companies to save: top talent without added employee expenses.

Fractional executives work on a part-time basis, often for several companies. By hiring one, companies minimize risk, avoid long-term commitment, and receive high-level expertise to address a specific objective. In essence, when you hire a fractional executive, you hire not only a C-suite extraordinaire but also a short-term, cutting-edge expert while saving money.

The Case for Female Fractional Executives

We know that due to COVID-19, more than 2.3 million women have left the workforce. Women’s labor force participation rate is at 57%, the lowest it’s been since 1988, according to the National Women’s Law Center. We also know there is a lack of female representation in senior leadership. Women account for only 25% of C-suite executives, and while some may argue that is an increase from 23% in 2018, that percentage is still way too low.

The role of fractional executive offers women, especially senior leaders who have left the workforce, a high-level pathway to return to work. Fractional executive women can take advantage of these work opportunities that ultimately provide an arena to showcase their expertise, demonstrate their skills, remain current, and obtain income. Fractional executive roles also allow women to gain even more industry experience, advance women in new sectors, and offer them flexibility, the lack of which may have caused them to leave work in the first place.

For companies, hiring female fractional executives also has its benefits. Not only do companies become a leader in bringing women back to the workplace, but they also take on the issues of gender equity and diversity. Female fractional executives bring in a much-needed and diverse perspective. A 2019 McKinsey report revealed companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. While a fractional employee isn’t a permanent hire, bringing on a woman to lead, even short term, has great implications for decision-making and inclusivity for the company as a whole.

A study conducted by Harvard indicated that women are better leaders in crises. The companies that are growing and advancing during this pandemic are the ones that have leaders who lead with empathy. The same study revealed that employees “want leaders who are able to pivot and learn new skills; who emphasize employee development even when times are tough; who display honesty and integrity; and who are sensitive and understanding of the stress, anxiety, and frustration that people are feeling.” While these are traits needed in all leaders regardless of gender, we know these traits are most often displayed by women. A fractional female executive brought in to address a pain point is a win-win.

But this isn’t simply checking off a box to help boost company profit or to make a company look diverse; this is committing to improve gender diversity in the workplace. This is functioning as more than a supportive ally by becoming an activist in making the change. By hiring a female fractional executive, a company commits to both women sitting at the leadership table and women leading the discussion at the table.

A part-time, short-term CFO, CMO, or COO meets the needs of a scaling (or even bootstrapped) company. It also meets the needs of candidates who are experts in their field and top leaders who manage life at home—driven, committed multitaskers who can lead with confidence, problem-solve, and save companies time and money while offering their scalable talent to improve output. There couldn’t be a better match.

Reem Papageorgiou is co-founder and chief talent officer of MomUp.