Women on boards: does the recruitment profession hold the key?

Nick Bowles
Head of Stakeholder Engagement
APSCo
Blogger
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The body of evidence which supports the benefit of women on boards just keeps on growing. New research from the University of British Columbia and the University of Utah has found that female board members are more likely to seek advice when making crucial business decisions. Researchers examined around 500 companies and found that, when presented with a takeover bid, organisations with corporate boards comprised of a higher proportion of women were more likely to seek outside advice from top-ranked financial advisors – with each woman adding around a seven per cent increase in the use of advisors. However, while there is now no doubt that female board representation has a significant and measurable impact on the dynamics and decision processes of boards, we have still not achieved gender parity at the top.

According to the latest Lord Davies' latest report on women on boards, the representation of women on FTSE 100 boards increased to 23.5 per cent in 2015, almost double the figure of 12.5 per cent recorded four years previously. The representation of women on the FTSE 250 has more than doubled to 18 per cent, up from 7.8 per cent in 2011. However, beyond these headline figures, the detailed configuration of these boards is less widely publicised.

Professional services firm KPMG recently announced that it had appointed a female global chairman and CEO in the US, this move follows Deloitte becoming the first ‘Big Four’ accountancy firm to install a woman at its helm. However it seems that while a minority of progressive companies are making real headway, the big picture is not so rosy.  Online board appointment tracking forum BoardsWatch has found that many of the roles being filled are part-time non-executive roles. In fact, only 8.6 per cent were executive directors, and only seven women were appointed as CEOs or chairmen in the past 12 months.

As a discipline, I believe that HR is acutely aware of its responsibility to improve gender diversity at senior level, and there is no doubt that the landscape is improving. However I believe that collaboration with the recruitment profession is the key to improving workforce gender diversity and pipeline future female leaders.

Last month, The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) launched its Women In Recruitment initiative to address the fact that the recruitment profession itself seems to ‘leak’ female talent. As a not-for-profit trade body representing the professional recruitment sector, we feel it is right that APSCo champions inclusion and leads by example. It is hoped that by supporting their clients in implementing inclusion strategies, recruitment consultancies can spark changes that trickle through the entire business landscape.

With help from the Westminster Business School, APSCo is on a mission to understand why women often seem to drop out of the recruitment profession after a few short years - and if we succeed in finding a solution to our talent-leakage problem, the benefits will not only be felt within the recruitment sector, but will also extend to the entire workforce. The HR and Recruitment disciplines, by their very nature, are often required to work hand-in-hand. If we collaborate in addressing the issue of female representation at the top, just imagine what we can achieve.

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