Gender inequality is prevalent across all industries, and the recruitment sector isn’t exempt. Historically the recruitment industry has had a ‘boys club’ image. With the adage, it’s not what you know it’s who you know running rampant. These days we’re thankful to say that the recruitment industry has moved away from this image.

There are more female leaders than ever before, support staff is primarily women, and even in the traditionally male dominated sales roles women are starting to gain ground. All of this is reason to celebrate, but only if we’re still aware that there’s work to be done. 

Gender pay gaps, divide in gender job roles, and progression routes need to be kept in mind to help women achieve more success and make more progress. As when that happens it’s recruitment firms who will benefit from the commercial gains these achievements bring.

What’s the story so far?

In 2020 research found that 26% of recruitment firm directors were female. This is broadly in line with trends across all industries, showing that recruitment are keeping pace with general female career progression. 

There are also significant gains with support staff roles. With over two thirds of recruitment agencies having over 50% female employees at support staff levels. That’s above average. The concern comes around the divide between support roles and sales.

The role divide

Within the recruitment industry there’s a clear divide between support and resourcing roles. Traditionally, there’s been a gender divide between those two functions with 78% of staffing companies acknowledging that over half their support function was composed of female employees. Progress had been made on the resourcing side and the number of women in sales had reached more than 50%, but post pandemic that figure has reduced to around 30%. 

This divide between support and sales is something that recruitment companies need to monitor and be prepared to take action. The support side is often deemed the ‘softer’ side of the business with functions such as marketing and HR, which are generally stereotyped as more suited to women.

Recruitment firms need to challenge the viewpoint that sales or resourcing is a cut throat, relentless role that usually attracts, and retains male employees. Changing the culture and the narrative around these roles is key to helping women progress in the recruitment industry.


The recruitment sector has been a supporter of working from home, which stood it in good stead when the pandemic hit. The need to switch to flexible and remote working enabled many female employees to continue their roles alongside caring responsibilities. 

This isn’t the only way the sector has supported female employees. 31% of firms have initiatives in place with the sole aim to retain female talent. The recognition that there need to be specific steps, support and intervention for female employees and that these are different to their male counterparts is a breath of fresh air.

Where do we go from here?

From here the only way the recruitment industry needs to go is up. The work already started needs to continue. Firms need to look at what challenges female employees still face and work to address these. 

Across the board the pandemic has impacted women, their careers and in the wider context gender equality. It’s up to the industry to step up and talk to their female employees to establish what more they need. Not only for their own benefit but also to impact the sectors and businesses they work with. 

The recruitment industry is uniquely poised to impact the hiring and career progression for women outside of their own sector. Change within recruitment itself will lead to change for others and create opportunities for women to climb the career ladder, break glass ceilings and receive equal pay for equal work.

The recruitment industry has established itself and its commitment to gender equality but now it needs to focus on leading the way. Mentoring schemes, anonymous applications, career progression, flexible working, the role divide, gender pay gap - these are all things that are within its control, and they are the key to being able to reflect in another year's time on how far the industry has gone to champion women not only in the recruitment industry, but across employment as a whole.

Source Group International are passionate about evolving the recruitment industry, and we’re looking for talent to join us on our discovery. Find out more about our internal practices contributing to building an inclusive workforce here.

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