Corner Office Q&A: Rebecca Henderson

Rebecca Henderson, CEO of Randstad’s global business and executive board member, has over 20 years’ experience as a leader in talent solutions. As a single working mother early in her career, Henderson knows first-hand the balance women have to strike to achieve personal and professional goals.

She’s demonstrated her commitment to supporting women through her executive leadership, but also by creating innovative mentorship and coaching programs like Randstad’s WIRED (Women in Randstad Empowering Development), which empowers women to develop leadership skills and give back to their communities. We spoke with her about the mentors who pushed her to take risks, the challenges facing women in the workplace after COVID-19, and trends for employment and staffing in 2021.

What would you say has helped you the most so far in your career?

The thing that’s helped me the most is taking chances along the way and trying a few new opportunities. I’ve worked in a couple of different industries. Each change made me a stronger leader and a stronger operator, forcing me to learn something new about customers or new about a product, new about the software industry for a while. So really getting out of my comfort zone, from an industry point of view, has certainly helped.

I was a single mom for a long time. I had both of my daughters in my early twenties. There’s nothing like the support of your family to help get you through as you’re working on your career. Especially since it’s Women’s History Month, I want to give a big shout-out to my mom who I lost about two years ago, but who always provided me great support. I would encourage everybody out there to develop a strong support system to help you network both in your personal life and your professional life, because those things clearly get overlapped quite a bit as you’re working on your career.

You’re known for creating opportunities through mentorship. Can you share an experience when someone helped mentor you?

I’ve always been able to find a great mentor, someone who gave me the courage to apply for a job that I didn’t think I was quite ready for or didn’t honestly think I could do, but who really pushed me. I remember a time specifically earlier in my career. There was a re-org coming and there was a bigger job coming up. It was actually my boss’s job. I didn’t have a college degree. I still don’t. It said “MBA preferred” on the job description. My mentor said to me, “Why aren’t you applying for that job?” I said, “The job description says, MBA preferred. I don’t even have a college degree. How can I…?”  He said, “Why are you paying attention to that?”

His name was Stas Wolk and I still admire Stas to this day. He said, “That should be your job. You need to apply for the job.” I never would have applied for it. My confidence was probably getting in the way. It was a great job, the biggest job I’d ever had in my career at that time, and honestly, if he didn’t have that talk with me that day, I think my whole career would have been different today.

What are you most proud of in your ability to support women’s career growth?

There are probably two things: WIRED and Hire Hope. If you’re not familiar with Hire Hope, it’s a completely funded Randstad program where we take 12 women every quarter that have been victims of sex trafficking. We work with third parties who help get these women off the streets, and after they’ve gone through a six-week orientation, we give them a job for 12 weeks. We teach them how to screen resumes and screen individuals and process candidates. We take them out and get a new suit. They learn interview skills and so on. We have one woman now, I’m so proud to say she makes $85,000 a year working for VMWare.

The other one is Wired, which actually started as a much smaller program just in Randstad Sourceright called WorkFierce. It was started because I noticed that a lot of our young managers and directors were afraid to make decisions. They were having a crisis of confidence around making a decision or making the wrong decision.

We used to give out bracelets that said “fearless.” If I saw you making courageous decisions, you’d get one of these bracelets. I wanted them to have the confidence to make a decision, and that it was okay to fail. As women, we don’t like to do that.

We should take far more credit for trying something, failing at it, learning from it and applying it next time. You’re so much stronger as an individual, as a colleague, as a leader, when you can do that.

So WorkFierce has turned into WIRED. It has six or 700 members now, focused on things like mentorship, in an effort to build confidence, whether you use that skill at work or to go out and buy a car.

What are the most important things companies should do to support women at work?

Finding affordable childcare is still something we have to fix. It’s everywhere. Not just in this country, but globally. Women leave the workforce all the time because of childcare issues. There’s no easy answer, but I think employers are starting to work on it. Google, in the wake of COVID, is providing childcare credits to their employees. I know Cisco is doing the same.

With my colleague and board member Karen Fichuk, in the US, we have tried a few things. We gave thousand-dollar grants to people to help subsidize their childcare. There were so many women that needed to reduce their workload, but we did not want them leaving the company or leaving the workforce. We lowered the benefit threshold to 20 hours a week so you could work part-time and still get full benefits. We also found that women who were having babies and maybe thinking of not coming back decided to come back because of the availability to get benefits only working 20 hours a week.

Whether it’s increased flexibility in your hours or providing subsidies or grants or whatever you can for childcare, offering sabbaticals if workers have to leave for a period of time and protect their jobs, I think these things will continue and I think that will be the side benefit of COVID-19, if there is one.

We’re coming up to the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 disrupting the workplace. What pandemic-related changes have been the most impactful to the staffing industry?

Certainly, the whole work-from-home shift. For Randstad, we have 4,000 branches around the world and overnight everybody was working from home. So, we’re saying, “Why do we need branches again?” In the staffing industry, for years, you were measured by how many branches you had.

The fact that everybody can work from home and get their job done might be the one thing that actually gives us back work-life balance and less time on the road. Clearly, everyone’s been managing through a crisis over the last year, so people are working a lot of hours. But I think as we come out of the crisis, we could keep a work-from-home structure in most companies.

I was on the Google CEO forum recently and there were 25 or so CEOs of big companies and they all said the same thing: They are going to a hybrid environment because people still like to go to the office. You can go to the office when you want to go to the office, or you can work from home when you want to work from home. I really hope everybody takes advantage of that. Take the extra hour in the morning, don’t get on your laptop, but go for a walk or exercise, do meal prep or take your kids to school, whatever it is you want to do. I think getting the work-life balance is a lesson learned, and we have to work to get that back, and I think we’re going to be able to do that.

For the staffing industry in particular, do you think it’s possible that it could ever be all-digital, with all remote staffing professionals, given the inherent human element of talent acquisition?

Well, we’ve been doing it. There are 185,000 temporary workers out on assignment on any given day, many of them getting their assignments without ever meeting anyone or going into a branch. We’ve proved what is possible. But if you had asked us a year ago, we would have said, “No way.”

For the staffing industry in general, this will force a renewed focus on the candidate experience. Before, you would check the box saying that you’ve met, you’ve made that eye contact, you’ve had a nice interaction, you liked each other and smiled, and you thought, “Oh, okay. That was nice.”

We’ll work differently to ensure that the candidate experience is positive because there won’t always be that face-to-face contact. This will be good for the industry because our NPS score in general, is low and it needs to get better, which is going to force us as an industry to make it better, finally.

What are your thoughts on the employment outlook for 2021 – and how the staffing industry will rebound?

From Randstad’s point of view, our logistics business is up 15%. Tech is growing. IT businesses are growing, and there are jobs for engineers and IT workers. Again, more people are working from home and there’s the digital transformation that comes along with that and that’s actually creating more jobs and that’s a good thing.

We’re not back to full employment yet but I suspect by the time we get to the fourth quarter, that is possible. In our RPO business, we are seeing customers open requisitions again at rates that are pre-COVID levels. That’s exciting. Opening a req isn’t necessarily finding the candidate and filling the req, but I think with time there will be new jobs created—ones that we haven’t really thought about before—in the areas of supporting the virus, health screeners, folks who are creating safer environments at the office, and things like that.

Finally, if you were able to sit down with a woman today, maybe somebody like yourself who was a single mom and had childcare responsibilities and was also balancing a career, what advice would you give her?

I have a good answer for this, but It’s hard to do, and that is to get over your guilt. I think the hardest thing we have as moms is the guilt of dropping our kids off at childcare or with another caregiver, even if it’s a loved one or just leaving them with our significant other who might be home, watching them. We have guilt missing plays, missing the first day of school, all of those things.

Today, my daughters are 36 and 34 years old. My younger daughter, Kelly, I missed her first day of school. For years, I had so much guilt because I thought how terrible of a mom could I be for missing her first day of school. She doesn’t remember that. She just remembers that there were a lot of people there. She thought I was there.

The guilt will hold you back, and there’s no reason for it. Your kids are going to be fine. I’ve learned that and I think others have learned that too, either single moms or working moms, that their kids are fine. In fact, there are lots of studies that show the children of working mothers do just as well, if not better than those whose mothers don’t work outside of the home. So, it’s okay. Let it go.

To learn more about what companies can do to rebuild gender equity after COVID-19, download our free e-book.