Getting more women on board

Headhunters pledge to increase the number of females going for board positions.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
The issue of women on boards has become an even hotter potato over the last few months. The threat of quotas has been hanging over Britain’s head unless it ups its commitment to increasing the number, and at the last minute it looks like businesses have pulled something out the bag.

A group of the UK’s leading headhunters has committed to providing long lists where at least 30% of the prospective candidates are women.   The code, drawn up by 20 executive search firms, also puts a new focus on ‘skills’ such as good judgment and perceptiveness, rather than just focusing on experience, to allow for a wider selection of candidates.

In February Lord Davies published a report calling on the UK’s leading companies to increase the number of women on boards to 25% - nearly double the current figure of 13%.  Britain has so far resisted imposing quotas, which would guarantee that a certain percentage of executive roles are made up of women. But there has been increasing pressure from the European Commission for Britain to show its commitment to increasing the number of female executives.

Several governments across Europe have already implemented quotas. In 2003 Norway passed a law which said all top firms would have to give 40% of board positions to women. France and Spain have promised the same targets over the next five years and the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium have since announced similar goals.

The European Union is also broadly in favour of mandatory targets. Earlier this month the European parliament passed a resolution (by an overwhelming majority) which called for EU-wide legislation ensuring that at least 40% of board positions would be reserved for women.

Despite Lord Davies’ report, Britain is often seen as being lukewarm in its approach to female executives.  Research shows that most firms are against the idea of quotas; so with the EU biting at Britain’s heels, this code from headhunters might be enough to stave off quotas – for now.  Business sisters of the world unite.

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