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Women in Business Q&A: Rebecca Henderson, Group President, Randstad Professional Solutions

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Rebecca Henderson (nee Callahan), Group President, Professional Solutions, North America.
Rebecca oversees Randstad's management and advisory services firm and Randstad Professionals brand, including Randstad Sourceright's recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) business. Through her leadership, Rebecca has helped her organization earn the industry's highest accolades, including top scores on HRO Today magazine's annual "Baker's Dozen." She serves on the Global Advisory Board for the HRO Today Services and Technology Association (formerly known as HROA), and she was most recently recognized by Staffing Industry Analysts in "The Staffing 100" listing of the 100 most influential staffing leaders.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up in a military household--my father is a retired Marine--so from a very young age I've been exposed to strong leadership, both from my father and the Marine community. The military culture, in general, is about commitment, team and pride. It built a foundation for me that I use every day.

Being a single mom also really shaped me and influenced how I approach what I do. I learned a lot about setting priorities and realized that you have to do whatever it takes to get what you want. I relied greatly on my family to help me care for my kids while I was working. We were a team. That time in my life taught me a lot about working together to reach a common goal.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Randstad?
Most of my career was spent selling "solutions" to businesses, primarily in the software arena. When I entered the staffing business 12 years ago, I had little staffing industry experience. I instinctively tried to apply the techniques and strategies that made me successful in my prior work to this new business. When I strategized with my team, I had no preconceptions about what would and wouldn't work. I wasn't limited to doing things the way they had always been done, because I didn't know what had always been done. I had a new perspective, and I really think that led me to success.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Randstad?
A big highlight for me is my part in bringing Randstad Sourceright to a market-leading position. What makes it even more fulfilling is that I've been able to do it with people I admire, both internal teams and external clients. I've met some outstanding people along the way.

I am also quite proud of having integrated our U.S. business into a global culture. This accomplishment was quite challenging, which is probably why it was also so rewarding. It was very exciting to shift an organization in such a dramatic way, but there were significant market and cultural differences to tackle. Though it was not as "fun and easy" as it may have seemed at the outset, the knowledge gained from it was a great payoff.

I have learned that achieving accomplishments usually comes with making some mistakes along the way. In my personal experience, there have been a number of highs and lows along the way, and making a few bad hiring decisions has led to some of the greatest challenges because the resulting impact can be painful for everyone, especially if the issue is not corrected quickly.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in your industry?
Many leaders in our industry didn't necessarily plan for a career in staffing. The great thing about our business is the opportunity to apply experience from other backgrounds. If you have great leadership skills in a solutions-based industry, for example, there are opportunities in staffing to make a great impact right away. The industry is also changing, and technology enablement is part of our new normal. Women offering these types of skills can really make a difference.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I sometimes laugh when I see this question asked of people because I don't actually think there is a balance. Instead, I believe that it's a matter of accepting that you can't be everything to everyone all the time. It's about choices and priorities--that's the only way you can achieve a sense of stability.

Personally, I find it beneficial that my husband works in the same industry. It's great to have that parallel, and to be with someone who can relate to the demands of my career. We are in similar circles, travel to the same places and have comparable challenges. I think that has really helped me stay grounded.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Most women don't ask for what they want or need. I've found that many women in middle management positions still lack the confidence to take risks. They hesitate in taking the kinds of risks that make a difference in their careers, and I think this lack of confidence manifests a fear of failure. Without risk, though, you don't move forward. It's that cycle that I think keeps many great women from reaching the levels they could.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
In my career I have always made it a point to find a mentor, someone who has a vested interest in me and my career. I value being a mentor, as well. There are great lessons to learn on each side of the relationship. I'm also an advocate of executive coaches. The top job is lonely. Having an outlet outside of the organization helps me make sounder decisions.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire the women who have taken the biggest risks--those who have failed and those who have made it. These women are examples for us. They help ease that fear of failure that I mentioned earlier. They need not be business women or have recognizable names. If we stop and look for a moment, we can see role models all around us.

What do you want Randstad to accomplish in the next year?
My desire for Randstad is that it becomes the employer of choice for enthusiastic, talented people. I get a lot of satisfaction in seeing employees who are truly fulfilled in their jobs reach personal and professional goals. I want to keep attracting individuals who recognize that they can be anything they want to be. They can make as much money as they are driven to, and they can have fun doing it. That attitude is contagious, and it's personally motivating for me, as well.