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Women in the workplace | RED Global Q&A session with Jue Hou

31st March 2022

Blog post

Throughout March 2022, we’ve had a series of interviews with successful women within the recruitment and tech industry. The purpose of the series was to promote and celebrate women and to find out from them if they’ve faced bias at work and how they’ve dealt with it. 

We are closing this series, with Jue Hou, Managing Director, Technology Consulting Europe at RED Global. Why is there still a lack of women at director level? Does success depend on one’s confidence? Have things changed in the recruitment industry? Read on the interview for an array of insights into the recruitment industry and more.

1. In 2017, you became RED’s first female Director. How did that feel? 

I actually had no awareness of it for a long time, until the second female got appointed, which was our Marketing Director at the time. It just never crossed my mind until somebody mentioned we had two female directors. It was only then that I realised that previously I had been the only female representation.

2. Do you ever consider yourself to be a role model for other women at RED?

I would like to think I'm always trying to be a role model for everyone. It's a very personal and subjective thing as well. I think all you’ve got to do is be consistent and practice what you preach. I really think that's the most important thing because people look for different qualities and things that they can relate to, and they find inspiring. I could be inspiring or relatable to some people and the complete opposite to others.

3. Why do you think there is a lack of women at director level in general?

One assumption could be the nature of the work. In the recruitment industry there are a lot of successful females in non-managerial roles. However, in managerial roles specifically in sales and recruitment, which are heavily male dominant, I think it takes a certain type of personality for a female to have the desire to do it.

This isn’t a question of ability. I just feel that most females will find it quite hard to manage a team of mostly men. I think by default this would not be what most women will pursue in this industry. Because of that you end up with a disproportionately large number of male managers. Typically, the leaders of the organisation come from the middle management team. So that leads to a significant shortfall of female leadership. 

4. What are the biggest challenges you faced in your career?

I once had a really horrible boss, who happened to be female. Her gender had nothing to do with her being a terrible boss, it’s just who she was. The positive side from that is that I actually learned a lot.

I always tell people that you could learn as much from a good boss as much as you can from a bad one. This experience helped me discover my emotional strength and resilience, build my confidence, and learn what kind of person and boss I must not be.

Because I understand the impacts of having an awful boss, from stress to depression, and how it can affect all facets of your life, it’s important that I always do my best to take care of how people are treated at work.

So, although that was a challenging time for me, I took away great lessons from it.

5. Do you think that being a female has ever worked for or against you in a bit in business?

In our society, in the UK and in today's age, discrimination tends to be very, very subtle.

I don't believe I've ever experienced discrimination in a professional capacity. I'm pretty sure, though that I've experienced the very subtle mistreatment or advantage throughout my career, but nothing where I’d say that's because I'm a female.

6. What are the biggest obstacles that women working in recruitment or in any other business face? 

Confidence and that being reflected in having a voice I think there is still to a large degree a “the louder you are, the more you’re heard” culture. And louder not by just volume but also intensity and assertiveness. And perhaps the female colleagues tend to shy away from that. “I can't compete with you on being loud, I'll just kind of keep my head down and be in the background and do my job.”  Some believe that way you shelter yourself from potential embarrassment or the risk of being taken advantage of.

7. How do you build up the confidence of your team members that aren’t confident?

Lack of confidence often is a result of self-limiting beliefs. On the contrary to what people may believe, confidence is not directly related to age or mere quantity of experience. 

I believe we gain or lose confidence through significant events experienced in life and through drawing wisdom from successes and failures. And so, I help people build confidence by guiding them out of their comfort zone and challenging their own beliefs about what they cannot do. I let them know that it's OK to make mistakes, but also remind them that I think they already have the knowledge or the experience, the ability, and the maturity, to be doing this.

That's the key thing. If you try to take people out of their comfort zone without giving them the safety and the kind of assurance that it's OK to fail, then you put them in a very bad position. But if you do give them the safety and the encouragement, you can really get a lot more out of people and that's basically what I'm trying to do all the time as a manager.

8. Is there a direct correlation between confidence and success? If you're confident you're more likely to succeed?

I think there is. If you're confident, you are more likely to succeed for various reasons. 

There is a quote I told my team, from Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, “The guaranteed recipe for success is to “double the rate of your failure." 

The secret is to fail better each time. I think if the confidence would allow you to, you’d be more likely to keep trying. 

The other aspect to me is that when you're confident you're giving yourself an advantage. If you present yourself in a certain way, people automatically have a buying into you and have a positive impression or validation of you, then you gain an invaluable edge.

So, the answer is yes, however, confidence is a hard thing to measure or define. For example, there is confidence, and there is arrogance. There's a fine line between them yet they can have very different effects.

9. Do you feel that women have the same opportunities as men?

In most industries, I highly doubt it. I think it’s a journey though and we’re still walking the path. We've come a long way actually, if you think where we are today. For example, the equal pay was implemented in the UK in the 1960’s. It’s only been 60 years. I think maybe to get to where we need to be will take another 50 years.

Some nations are doing much more than the others. In Europe, for example, the Nordics are much further ahead in terms of gender equality.

10. Do you focus on ensuring female representation in your shortlisted candidates?

This is a mandatory requirement for us from most of our clients, particularly in Germany and Scandinavia. 

With one of our clients, it's almost now the other way round. They promoted over 1500 female employees into leadership over a very short period. Sounds like a good thing right? This then made the male employees feel mistreated in a way, because they felt that the promotion criteria suddenly became different. The bar to entry in terms of promotion became higher for men, and lower for women. How do you treat this topic? It's almost a reversed gender discrimination. 

Societies are taking large strides in trying to balance things. I think we might go to the extreme other end at some point in order to then reach the ideal balance and position we all aim for.

11. Do you feel the recruitment industry has changed over time? 

100% because ten years ago I don't think it was a topic at all. Most Fortune 500 companies now have a gender diversity target in their recruitment strategy, so 100% in that sense it has.

12. Are there any female attributes that you think men in the workplace could learn from?

I think that both men and women have a lot to learn from each other, and it is to do with what's complementary. It’s not so much about learning to be something else, more about what makes a perfect holistic whole and trying to take the advantage of that.

13. Do you have any female role models?

I've had a few different ones over the years but one of the most recent ones in some ways relevant to this topic is Brené Brown, a professor from the University of Texas. She has a very famous presentation on TED TALK and has a number of books published on the subject of vulnerability. It's not necessarily female centric but what I like about her is her authenticity. She is proud of who she is and turned her knowledge and passion in a typically neglected and misunderstood subject based on her own personal experience into a career which promotes understanding of ourselves we could all benefit from.

14. What advice would you give to a woman at the beginning of her career?

Always be professional. Stay true to yourself and be authentic. Don't try to be something else or someone else. Don’t try to be louder or more masculine, focus on your own strengths. Don’t give a care what the world thinks about you. 


We are thankful to Jue for sharing with us some of her thoughts and experience in the recruitment industry as a female leader. What do you do to support your team and build their confidence? As a company, what do you do to reduce gender bias and create an equal opportunity environment for all your employees?

For more career and industry insights, read the other interviews from the series Women in the Workplace.

Agathe Large

Petra Hunger

Selina Nicolosi

Patricia Bastos

Margo Nedzka

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