And then there are none: On the exclusion of women in processes of executive search

Janne Tienari, Susan Meriläinen, Charlotte Holgersson, Regine Bendl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the ways in which gender is "done" in executive search. The authors uncover how the ideal candidate for top management is defined in and through search practices, and discuss how and why women are excluded in the process. Design/methodology/approach: The study is based on in-depth interviews with male and female Austrian, Finnish and Swedish executive search consultants. The authors study the ways in which consultants talk about their work, assignments, clients, and candidates, and discern from their talk descriptions of practices where male dominance in top management is reinforced. Findings: The ways in which gender is "done" and women are excluded from top management are similar across socio-cultural contexts. In different societal conditions and culturally laden forms, search consultants, candidates and clients engage in similar practices that produce a similar outcome. Core practices of executive search constrain consultants in their efforts to introduce female candidates to the process and to increase the number of women in top management. Research limitations/implications: The study is exploratory in that it paves the way for more refined understandings of the ways in which gender plays a role in professional services in general and in practices of executive search in particular. Practical implications: Unmasking how gender is woven into the executive search process may provide openings for "doing" gender differently, both for consultants and their clients. It may serve as a catalyst for change in widening the talent pool for top management. Originality/value: Research on gendered practices in executive search is extremely rare. The study provides new insights into this influential professional practice and its outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalGender in Management
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)43-62
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2013
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management


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