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EHRC encourages headhunters and chairmen to improve the representation of women at board level

30 May 2012 #Employment

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has released a recent report on “Gender
Diversity on Boards: The Appointment and the Role of Executive Search Firms”.

The report, carried out by Cranfield School of Management for the EHRC, reveals that the appointment of women to FTSE 350-listed non-executive director roles is being held back by selection processes which ultimately favour candidates with similar characteristics to existing male-dominated board members.

The report follows the recent Davies Review which called upon executive search firms to take on a more active role in increasing gender diversity on FTSE boards. The report shows that the voluntary code of conduct introduced following a recommendation in the Davies Review has had some success at getting more women on long lists. However, when it comes to short-listing and appointing, successful candidates tend to be those who are perceived as “fitting in” with the values, norms and behaviours of existing board members, who are largely men.

The report identifies examples of good practice at executive search firms, as well as concluding that a more “transparent, professional and rigorous approach” to the selection approach would allow chairmen and search agencies to appoint more female candidates and encourage women to consider apply for roles as non-executives.

The report makes a number of recommendations including:

  • As intermediaries in the executive labour market, executive search firms need to set clear definitions as to what is sought from board candidates, beyond their experience;
  • Executive search firms, chairmen and nomination committees need to review the interview process to make it more transparent, rigorous and professional;
  • Executive search firms need toinvest more time into developing relationships with women in the pipeline who could become executive or non-executive directors later in their careers;
  • Executive search firms need to carry out regular reviews of the effectiveness of the voluntary code of code.

Recent research by BBC News has also revealed that women are under-represented in many of Britain’s top jobs. Figures show women still hold less than a third of the most senior positions in the UK. Whilst in politics, this figure plummets to a fifth, and is even lower in the top 100 companies.

So how can Companies look to move towards greater female representation on boards? Practical steps include, addressing the pipeline to board-level roles using informal networking opportunities, investment in long-term cultural changes and the use of non-executive directorships as a stepping stone for women to gain experience for executive positions. Companies can also look to the use of family-friendly policies to put incentives in place to ensure a greater retention of female employees.

Buddy is interested to hear the thoughts of its members on this issue. This can be done using the comments box below.

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.
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