Executive recruiters can help take voluntary ‘Women on Boards’ code to the next level

We found this interesting article on the REC website. It is good to see steps being put in place to ensure there are more women in the board room, however it will be interesting to see how these steps are measured.


Progress is being made on the ‘Women on Boards’ agenda but initiatives such as the Voluntary Code of Conduct for search firms need to be cranked up a few notches in order to continue making an impact. This was the core message from the recent roundtable hosted by the REC’s Association of Executive Recruiters (AER) that brought together leading search firms as well as representatives from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, who are driving the latest progress report.


Boardwatch reported this month that the percentage of women moving up to balance the boardrooms of the UK’s Top 350 companies is creeping toward the target of 25% female directors by 2015, yet fears of ‘tokenism’ remain and more must be done to address residual barriers. As a result, the Business Secretary Vince Cable recently launched a review of the code and appointed Charlotte Sweeney, a member of the Equalities Advisory Board, to lead this initiative. The AER roundtable was an opportunity for Charlotte to engage directly with our industry and gain first-hand insight into how search firms can help make a difference.


Search firms agreed that spotlighting this issue in the media and government has helped to move diversity higher up the employer agenda. The Code of Practice has played an important role in raising awareness but a step-change is needed to embed the nine core principles and to ensure that that they change the way senior level appointments are made. Over 50 companies now signed up to the code but the point was made that there was no real test or threshold associated with signing up. The next step is to create a mechanism to measure how organisations signing up are acting on the recommendations. Sarah Thewlis, a member of the REC Council and Managing Director for Thewlis Graham Associates, pointed to the REC’s Compliance Test as an example of how a measurable standard can be demonstrated without creating significant additional bureaucracy. Search firms were also asked for their thoughts on a proposed pilot scheme to increase transparency by advertising board level positions and publishing data on the percentages of women and men they placed onto FTSE 100 and 250 boards as directors each year. There was mixed feedback on whether some of these proposals would make a real difference but broad agreement that such schemes would be worth a trial on the need for more transparency. Looking ahead, the ‘responsible business’ agenda will provide an additional driver and ensure that UK businesses focus on good recruitment practices. This will also help to ensure that gender equality is promoted at all levels and that we grow the pipeline of future women leaders. Charlotte Sweeney’s progress report is due to be submitted to the Business Secretary in December. An immediate priority for the REC is to collate case studies of search firms who have innovated in the way that they work with their clients and candidates to make change happen. Over the coming weeks, the REC and members of the AER will build on discussions at the latest roundtable and will be working with BIS to develop practical recommendations on taking the voluntary Code forward.


Do you feel there is equality and opportunity in your workplace? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this article.

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