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, according to a new report released today by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The report, produced by Cranfield School of Management for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, is the first in-depth study into the appointment process to corporate boards and the role of executive search firms. It 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 reveals that many chairmen and search firms recognise that gender diversity should be increased at board level. 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 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.
Interviews with senior consultants at 10 leading executive search firms in London, all signatories to the voluntary search code, reveal that search firms are beginning to challenge chairmen and nomination committees when defining briefs. In particular, this includes giving more importance to underlying competencies than their 'fit' with existing board members.
The research shows how selection of candidates based on 'fit' and previous board experience, rather than competencies, is self-perpetuating. It works against women who have had fewer opportunities to gain previous board level experience and limits the ability of chairmen to broaden the range of skills and experience of their boards.
As well as identifying examples of good practice at executive search firms, the report concludes that a more transparent, professional and rigorous approach to the selection process would allow chairmen and search agencies to appoint more female candidates and encourage more women to consider applying for roles as non-execs.
Baroness Prosser, deputy chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:
"Research shows that diverse boards produce better performance. Many companies recognise this. We commissioned this report to support their efforts to improve the representation of women at board level. However, the often subjective way of making appointments ends up replicating existing boards rather than bringing in talented women who could bring real benefits to individual company performance and ultimately help Britain's economic recovery."
Find out more at www.equalityhumanrights.com
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