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Süddeutsche Zeitung – A Gentle Revolution: An Interview with Jill Ader

  • August 2019

Jill Ader encourages women to reach for the top 

Not only is Jill Ader Egon Zehnder’s first chairwoman, she’s also the first woman to make it to the top of one of the world’s top five executive search firms. This wasn’t always a given; instead it was rather a “gentle revolution”, as Isabell Pfaff wrote in her Wednesday portrait for the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “It took a long time for me to gather the courage,” admits Ader, who has been chairwomen since the end of 2018.

Ader grew up in a middle-class family in northwestern England in the mid-nineties before she joined Egon Zehnder, which explains her enthusiasm for people. “I never thought about recruitment consulting but I was always fascinated by people, their motivation and what that could mean for a company.” She is keen to “unlock the potential” that lies dormant in people and help them “become the best version of themselves”.

“Curiosity, modesty, empathy, vulnerability, inclusion: these are the qualities that it takes to run a company today.”

Jill Ader, Egon Zehnder Chairwoman

Ader wants to go even further. She lists qualities that are indispensable for today’s leaders: curiosity, modesty, empathy, vulnerability, inclusion. “These are the qualities that people nowadays need to lead and change companies.” Ultimately these are qualities that “are considered feminine,” says Ader. At the same time, she emphasizes, “Men and women both possess these so-called feminine characteristics! We just tend to deny them.” Ader wants the next generation of leaders to make use of these “feminine” qualities because leadership nowadays is too complex for male and female bosses if they think that they already know all the answers. Assertiveness and profit orientation are no longer enough.

The fact that management teams are becoming more diverse is also a matter of justice for Ader.  “After all, you don’t want to make big decisions and leave out half of the population.” According to an Egon Zehnder survey of large companies in 44 countries, only 3.7 percent of companies have a female boss. It’s Egon Zehnder’s duty and responsibility to change this, Ader maintains. “In the long run our customers decide, but we’re trying to exert greater influence than in the past.” Egon Zehnder includes women in all of its activities, even if their companies don’t pay for them. Germany and Switzerland are surprisingly backward in terms of diversity, she says. “Working women with children have told me that people commiserate with them when they say that they go out to work.” Ader herself is the mother of three children.

Full Story: Isabell Pfaff, Sanfte Revolution, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 14th August 2019, Pg. 16


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