Women in Business — Kirti Lad, headhunter

Kirti Lad is the Hong Kong director for Harvey Nash, an executive search firm. She is also co-founder of the Women’s Directorship Programme at the University of Hong Kong, a certificate programme launched in 2013 run in partnership with Harvey Nash that aims to prepare women managers in Asia for appointment to corporate boards. Since it started, 30 per cent of participants have secured their first external board appointment.

Ms Lad grew up in the UK and studied for a degree in physics and chemistry. She has more than 20 years’ experience working in the executive search industry, the majority of which she has spent at Harvey Nash.

In her spare time, Ms Lad is a member of the Women in Business Committee at the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and practices Muay Thai martial arts.

1. What convinced you to create the Women’s Directorship Programme?

Over the years I have had the privilege of working to support numerous talented female leaders with their career paths. I am inspired by their strength and their drive and how they relish new opportunities and challenges. I want to ensure that women are aware of and have access to the right networks to reach their full potential.

Sustainable business success requires the support of a mature and diverse board, and gender-balance around the boardroom table is a key element in this. The Women’s Directorship Programme was created in answer to the worldwide business community’s call to tackle the existing gender imbalance in boardrooms.

2. Who are your business influences?

As part of the Women’s Directorship Programme, we have worked with business leaders who have had a huge impact on me. Both Susan Gilchrist, chief executive of communications company Brunswick and Teresa Ko, China chairman of Freshfields law practice, spring to mind as particularly inspirational.

Influential chairmen are Donald Brydon of the Royal Mail and Rick Haythornthwaite of Centrica and MasterCard. They are so committed to driving change at board level, I find their drive and focus infectious. They are the type of role models we need to instigate change.

3. What is your best career decision?

Moving to Hong Kong in 2012. Relocating here has been a wonderful and fulfilling experience. The energy and vibrancy of the Asia Pacific region is infectious and I am proud to be able to contribute to it. It has been an exciting challenge working within new markets and establishing fresh networks.

4. What is an average day at work like?

Typically, I wake at 6am, go to the gym for 7am and get to the office by 8.30am to catch up on emails and map out the day. The rest of my time consists of client meetings, candidate interviews, consulting with new clients or handling partnerships. I always try to leave the office at 6pm to spend time with my children. I then tend to be back online by 8.30pm or attending a client dinner.

I am mainly focused on engagement around gender diversity mandates, such as talent mapping: exploring the talent that companies have access to, both within and outside the organisation to provide them with the picture and means to make a change. You will be surprised by how many great women exist in some of these very male-dominated industries — more than most think.

5. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

Starting out in the male-dominated world of science, I learnt quickly of the power of maintaining my authenticity. Always be authentic — bring your own skills. I’m very proud of being a woman and being feminine.

Companies need to create environments that are fair regardless of gender, race or background. We need strong role models within male-dominated environments and men need to be encouraged to be part of the fabric of any initiatives that are implemented, such as mentoring programmes.

6. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

David Bishop from the University of Hong Kong encourages students to never lose sight of what they stand for. Retain your credibility by being authentic at all times.

Moral architecture needs to be built into all decisions. It is not all about business sense but also about moral sense. We must never lose sight of the fact that in business we are still working and dealing with people.

7. What is your favourite business book?

I have less and less time to read a book from cover to cover so I prefer the option of dipping in and out of content. The rise of digital and social media suits my need for immediacy. I’m a huge fan of Ted talks, which enable me to take in hits of information that I can put into practice immediately.

Amy Cuddy and her talk on power posing is an example of this. “If you feel like you shouldn’t be somewhere: Fake it. Do it not until you make it — but until you become it,” she says. This is particularly pertinent to me as I often work alongside executives who admit they suffer from imposter syndrome.

I also discovered Daniel Pink’s work through his Ted talk on motivation in 2009: “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”

8. What are your top tips for networking?

Be selective and targeted when you network — know what you want to get out of the opportunity and use your time wisely. Networks are only useful when people are engaged — you get out what you put in.

Women are generally very good at making social connections yet are less likely to ask for want they want. Ultimately there will be a business objective for some of the relationships we form and we need to know when to capitalise on our connections.

My top tip for networking is to really invest in your relationships. Maintaining your connections takes a lot of time and focus but it is the key to a successful career.

9. Which websites / apps would you recommend for businesswomen?

While in-person relationship building is still critical, digital platforms now play a significant role in building out personal networks. In addition to LinkedIn, which is extremely useful in managing connections and is becoming increasingly social in terms of user experience, I also recommend getting involved in online communities, such as Ladies Who Launch.

There are also many excellent professional development resources for women online, including the Lean In education section, InPower Women, The Daily Muse and the female leader-focused sections of news outlets such as Entrepreneur or Fast Company.

10. Which three people, living or dead, would you invite to a business meeting?

If the meeting were to be focused on convincing a client of the need to invest in advancing women in the workplace and managing the female talent pipeline, I would invite the following people to join me to make the business case:

Marilyn Monroe, who said: “Women know their limits, but wise women know they have none”. Ms Monroe was beautiful and smart and proud of being a woman. I’m positive she could charm everyone in the room.

Modern-day powerhouse Oprah Winfrey. She is powerful, authentic, modest and she makes things happen. She knows how to get people to believe in something.

And Lord Mervyn Davies, male champion of change. Since he championed the Women on Boards report his credibility on diversity cannot be equalled. He is a true believer in the business benefits of gender diverse boardrooms.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.