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Headhunters dispute claims board selection favours men

Headhunters argue main problem is number of women applying for board appointments

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Board level selection at the UK’s top companies is rigorous but a lack of female applications limits appointments, says headhunters, refuting a new study’s claims that recruitment is hindering the appointment of women.

A report released on Monday by Equality and Human Rights Commission said recruitment is hampering the appointment of women to non-executive positions at FTSE 350 companies because the selection process continues to favour men.

But Mark Freebairn, a partner and head of the financial management practice, disputed the findings in the study, produced by Cranfield School of Management.

“I don’t agree with what they are saying. It’s moved away from ‘let’s all go out for lunch’ and the chairman says ‘let’s find someone who enjoys hunting!’ There’s much more of a challenge for the headhunter,” Freebairn said.

Chairmen increasingly only look at all-female lists, he added.

Suzzane Wood, who specialises in board-level finance and non-executive assignments at search firm Russell Reynolds, said the problem lay in a lack of women applying for board level roles.

“There is a gender issue because the supply of women doesn’t meeting the demand in executive and non executive roles. Until we have more females applying we have got a problem,” Wood said.

But she said the appetite to hire women to board positions was “higher than it’s ever been”.

Most search firms signed up to a voluntary search code last July to improve the gender balance on FTSE 350 boards in response to the Davies report. The code also covers succession planning, diversity goals, defining a client brief to balance experience with relevant skills, the value of diverse long lists and support during the selection process.


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