Headhunters urged to do more to address gender imbalance in the boardroom

5 Aug

Executive search firm Harvey Nash has urged headhunters to go beyond signing up to the voluntary code of conduct launched in July in response to Lord Davies Review of Women on Boards report.

Harvey Nash, recognising that there was a perceived limited pool of suitable female candidates, in 2008 launched Inspire, its business network for senior board-level women in business. This initiative, says the company, has provided support and mentoring to thousands of senior businesswomen in the private and public sectors – and has helped spread the message that gender diversity at the highest levels is good for business. And it is calling on other executive search firms to do much more than tick the code of conduct box.

Margot Katz, group talent director and main board member of Harvey Nash Group plc, said: “To avoid the need for quotas, I encourage chairmen and senior independent directors to champion the appointment of more women and minorities to their boards. The executive search industry should also help identify and promote exceptional talent from these groups, and I urge recruiters to do more than simply sign up to the voluntary code by being proactive on this issue. We have been greatly encouraged by the results of Inspire, and our clients have reaped the rewards: adding richness, innovation, creativity and diversity to their management teams and boards.”

The voluntary code of conduct for search firms is aimed at improving the representation of women on the boards of FTSE 350 companies, and covers provisions for succession planning, diversity goals, and including at least 30% in long lists for board appointments.

Business lobbying organisation the CBI has said it is fully supportive of the measures set out in the Financial Reporting Council’s (FRC) consultation document Gender Diversity on Boards.

The CBI has reiterated its call for the Code to be revised to require listed companies to report on diversity on a ‘comply or explain’ basis – allowing firms to set their own targets according of the nature of their business.

Katja Hall, CBI chief policy director, said:
”The best way to get more women on boards is by giving companies the flexibility to set targets that reflect the realities of their businesses. The voluntary approach is working with the number of female boardroom appointments steadily increasing since the beginning year, but we need to keep up the momentum. Given the scale of the challenge, the FRC should get on with revising the Code as a matter of urgency. Failure to act now could put firms at risk of Government or EU-imposed quotas, which would be little more than tokenism.”

Some listed companies, including BG Group, BT and Standard Life, have spoken out about the fear of tokenism – claiming that diversity should focus not just on gender but include other criteria such as race, background and age.

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