Tara Flickinger brings to ON Partners nearly a decade of executive search experience recruiting C-level executives across several industries for private equity, Fortune 500 and growth clients.
Tara also brings to the ON community the perspective of a working executive mom who has experienced herself and seen in executives the balancing act that multiple jobs require, how the role of working mother has evolved, and how the combination of the pandemic and the movement for diversity has created for the first time real opportunity for working executive moms.
I am a true people person. I love connecting with others – having real, genuine, meaningful conversations, and figuring out what makes them tick – which is why I love my job as a search consultant. I talk to a variety of executives on a daily basis – employers in search of talent and candidates – both male and female, who are open to new opportunities. Because of my role, people are very open with me; I have candid conversations about talent, employee performance, dynamics and challenges in the workplace, leadership, compensation, career decisions, and professional struggles, so I have a unique perspective.
As an executive woman and working mother of three, I connect with other executive working moms on a different and deeper level because of our shared challenges of balancing career and family. I believe women are essential to the workplace because we have a tremendous work ethic, we are creative, resourceful, and flexible – and because we are GSDrs – we get stuff done. We also bring an empathy to the workplace that is unique and an intuition that is distinct.
As valuable as I believe we are to the workplace, for decades, Corporate America hasn’t let us think outside the box about what a workday could look like. That made things very challenging for executive working moms, causing some to step down or exit the workplace entirely.
COVID-19 has totally demolished that box. Employees have proven we can be just as effective – if not more so, in some cases – working “outside the box.” Working from home during COVID-19 eliminated commutes, making it much easier for people to be online earlier. Zoom meetings reduced logistical issues and eliminated wasted time. The time saved and flexibility of the home office proved extremely convenient, empowering us to work the hours that work for us, with fewer detractors and distractions. “Nine to five” – which has never aligned with other systems of a mom, like kids’ school schedules – is no longer necessarily nine to five and for the first time, companies are embracing it. Whereas before there wasn’t the flexibility and freedom to show we can be successful both at home and in leadership roles at work, COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to do so.
Now, as nearly half of US adults have been fully vaccinated and schools are reopening for in-person learning, we have an opportunity to bring about a true paradigm shift for both executive working mothers and employers. The stereotype that executive women have to make a choice between career or parenting has always persisted, but my hope is that following the pandemic, the decision is less stark and there are more opportunities to do both.
COVID-19 happened in parallel with a long-overdue increased emphasis on diversity, delivering a one-two punch of improved workplace flexibility and demand for women executives. Just a few years ago, it often felt like a struggle to bring female candidates to the table for consideration because I knew the employer did not offer flexible working arrangements. As a champion for women and executive working mothers, this was extremely frustrating and disheartening for me. I wanted to be an advocate for these women and do right by my clients, but their priorities did not always align.
Today is a totally different story. With the increased emphasis on diversity and increased workplace flexibility, I am expected to and applauded for bringing women to the table. In fact, I am currently working on two CXO searches and the candidate pools are both 100% female. This has never happened in my career – and is only happening because of the flexibility COVID-19 has enabled in combination with the renewed focus on diversity.
While moms had to juggle work and kids at the same time during COVID-19, no group was better prepared for it. Overcoming the challenge validated what moms have been saying all along: that our unique position makes us more qualified for senior roles, not less. That perception has finally begun to change because of the collision of COVID-19 and the push for diversity.
MEET TARA FLICKINGER – Q&A SESSION
How did you get into executive search?
I serendipitously ended up in executive search following the birth of my first child. I had been working in finance when I had her, but I wasn’t good at what I was doing or passionate about it. I decided that if I was going to leave her every day, I had to do something I loved, was good at, and where I was making an impact.
I love people and figuring out what makes them tick, and I love being a trusted advisor. Executive search is the perfect complement to my skill set. I took a somewhat circuitous route to get into it, but I am thankful for all of my prior experiences because they have given me a broader perspective, which makes me a better search consultant.
What have been some of your favorite assignments and why?
My favorite assignments are those in which I tap someone on the shoulder who is heads down and killing it in her or his current role and present them with an opportunity that they otherwise wouldn’t have been aware of. I then walk them through the search process, landing them in a new role that completely changes their life and career trajectory.
What did you learn in 2021?
The year was more of a validation of what I had believed vs. what I learned. The workforce has proven that we can be effective – really effective – in less traditional working environments as we’ve seen employees thrive with the autonomy and flexibility that came with the pandemic.
ABOUT ON PARTNERS
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ON developed a series of experience-driven tools designed to help clients and candidates, including an executive assessment and onboarding guide; tips on how to interview virtually; and a collective forecast from ON consultants about what to expect post-pandemic across several industries, including supply chain, eCommerce, private equity, telecom and telemedicine, software and life sciences.
ON Partners propels an organization’s mission by building C-level and board leadership teams. Founded in 2006 by like-minded consultants as a values-driven alternative to the multi-service global firms they were leaving behind, ON delivers a better executive search experience. Named by Forbes as one of America’s Best Executive Recruiting Firms and to the Inc. 500/5000 Lists seven times, the firm is consistently ranked among the top 20 retained executive search firms in the U.S. For more information, see our results here.
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