The appointment of women to FTSE 350-listed non-executive director roles is being held back by flawed selection processes, new research suggests.
A report released by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and produced by Cranfield School of Management, suggests that current selection processes favour candidates with similar characteristics to existing male-dominated board members.
Search firms have introduced a voluntary code of conduct and had some success at getting more women on long lists. But when it comes to shortlisting and appointing, the candidates who are selected 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 study involved interviews with senior consultants at ten leading executive search firms in London, following the recent Davies Review which called upon executive search firms to take on a more active role in increasing gender diversity on FTSE boards.
Baroness Prosser, Deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, says: “Research shows that diverse boards produce better performance. Many companies recognise this and we commissioned this report to support their efforts to improve the representation of women at board level.
“However, the often subjective way appointments are made ends up replicating existing boards rather than bringing in the talented women who could bring real benefit to individual company performance and ultimately help Britain’s economic recovery.”
Dr Elena Doldor, Senior Research Fellow from the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders, says: “Our research shows that ESFs are more willing to play a part in increasing board diversity and we identified a number of good practices in the sector.
“We noticed that search firms tend to focus their diversity initiatives on the first stages of the appointment process. In the later stages of the process, which entails short listing and interviewing, there needs to be more effort from headhunters and chairmen to ensure that selection practices remain inclusive.”
Karen Gill, co-founder of everywoman, adds: "Executive search firms have made progress thanks to the voluntary code, but the push needs to continue and headhunters must drive the focus on competencies rather than this indefinable and dangerous notion of “fit”.
"It’s easy to hire the image of what you know so chairman must make a conscious decision to take the blinkers off and consider applicants on a proven track record. This will be a leap of faith for many but British boards don’t need more of the same; they need women with the right competencies and a different perspective to bring to the table."