Male boards holding back female recruitment, report says

Media captionThe European Union is moving closer to forcing companies to appoint more female directors

Male-dominated boards hiring executives who are similar to them is holding back the appointment of women to senior roles, a report has said.

Candidates for board-level jobs are generally hired based on their "fit" with existing, mostly male directors, Cranfield University research showed.

This works against women who have had fewer opportunities to gain previous high-level experience, it said.

It highlighted particular problems in the later stages of recruitment.

Chairmen and headhunters have acknowledged the need for gender diversity to be increased in FTSE 350-listed non-executive director roles with a number of search firms signing up to a voluntary code of conduct, which aims to improve the gender balance in Britain's boardrooms.

Through this code of conduct a number of search firms have succeeded in getting more women on long lists. However, when it came to shortlisting and appointments, the report indicated that 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 predominantly men.

Dr Elena Doldor, senior research fellow from the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders and lead author of the report, said headhunters tended to focus their diversity initiatives on the initial stages of the appointment process, neglecting the shortlisting and interviewing stages.

"It is at these later stages of the process that the focus appears to inadvertently shift from candidates' actual competencies to the slippery notion of 'fit'," Dr Doldor said.

A more "transparent, professional and rigorous" approach to the selection process would allow chairmen and headhunters to appoint more female candidates and encourage more women to consider applying for roles as non-execs, the report suggested.

The research, conducted by Cranfield University on behalf of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, also showed diverse boards produced better performances, Baroness Prosser, deputy chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said.

"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," Baroness Prosser said.

European measures

The percentage of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies has risen over the past year to a record 16%, but the government has told the biggest listed companies that they need to have a minimum 25% of female directors by 2015.

Meanwhile, the European Union is moving towards introducing legislation to force companies to appoint more female directors.

Vice president of the European Commission Viviane Reding, who is leading the campaign, has called for a mandatory 30% female representation on boards by 2015 and 40% by 2020.

Ms Reding has set the end of Monday as the deadline for submissions on ways to get more women into boardrooms.

The Cranfield report on women in UK boardrooms is being published every six months, and comes in response to the recommendations put forward by Lord Davies in February last year.

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