From Cavewoman to Chairwoman

What Horton International executive search is doing to encourage the transition

In my previous article on the subject, I talked about examining what is being done by various stakeholders in this debate on gender diversity.  In this article, I want to explain how we as executive search consultants are contributing – on a daily basis – to the eventual achievement of a well-balanced male/female mix in the boardroom.

Back in 2011, the Davies Review recommended that the executive search community should draw up a voluntary code of conduct to address gender diversity on corporate boards, and to ensure best practice in the search process.  This code was subsequently developed, and further enhanced three years later.  In support of this, we at Horton International are committed to helping our clients increase the effectiveness of their boards and senior management teams, and acknowledge the value that diversity can bring – remember that companies with three or more women on their board generate a return on equity that is significantly higher than those without.  This is because the more diverse the board, the more options it will undoubtedly consider when it comes to crucial decision-making (“It is about the richness of the board as a whole, the combined contribution of a group of people with different skills and perspectives to offer, different experiences, backgrounds and life styles and who together are more able to consider issues in a rounded, holistic way and offer an attention to detail not seen on all male boards which often think the same way, and sometimes make poor decisions” – 2010 survey commissioned by Government Equalities Office).

We recognise the important role our profession plays in supporting board chairs as they take steps to increase the proportion of women on their boards, in both executive and non-executive roles.  We consistently follow these steps through the search process, from acceptance of a brief through to final selection:

  • When taking a brief, we will examine the overall team composition and, in the context of the client’s agreed aspirational goals on gender balance and diversity (which ought to be a given), we explore whether the recruiting of female directors is a priority on that occasion.
  • In defining briefs, we would encourage the client to ensure that significant weight is given to relevant skills, underlying competencies and personal capabilities and not just proven career experience, in order to extend the candidate pool beyond those with existing board roles or conventional corporate careers.
  • When presenting long lists, we endeavour to ensure that a significant percentage of the candidates are women; this is achieved through a thorough, rigorous research process. The aim is to have at least 25-30% of women on the shortlist (indeed, a recent assignment of ours achieved 38% female representation).  That is not to say that we pursue positive discrimination for its own sake – indeed, our over-riding aim is to find the best person for the role, irrespective of gender.
  • As clients evaluate candidates, we can encourage them to give appropriate weight to intrinsic competencies and capabilities, rather than over-valuing certain kinds of experience, in this way avoiding gender bias.
  • Every day, we are broadening our own database of potential female candidates, and consistently make efforts to develop relationships with the pipeline of future women candidates.
  • We are sometimes asked by clients to develop succession plans that identify the balance of experience and skills that they will need to recruit for over the next few years, in order to maximise board effectiveness. This time frame allows a broader view to be established by looking at the whole board, not individual hires at a moment in time.

In my next article, I will be looking at what efforts are being made by industry stakeholders to actively work towards more balanced senior teams.  Any comments about points raised in this article and on the subject in general are very welcome.

Jane Spillman

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