Choose To Challenge The State Of Gender Equity On Boards
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April 06, 2021
DEIDiversityBoard and CEO AdvisoryExecutive SearchBoard Director and Chair Search
Boards must push themselves to look beyond traditional titles and focus more on leadership attributes to create a diversified group of new leaders.
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Business Leader

The Business Leader article, "Choose to Challenge the State of Gender Equity on Boards," was written by Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Laura Sanderson, who co-leads the Board & CEO Advisory Practice in Europe. Laura shares her views on gender equity in UK boardrooms. The article is excerpted below. 

The current state of women on corporate boards shows how far we’ve come – and how we haven’t come nearly far enough. 

In February, the Hampton-Alexander Review reported that it had achieved its target of 33% of board positions on the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 being held by women, a remarkable milestone given where thin​gs were five years ago, but still well short of the percentage of women in society or in the workplace. Remarkably, these percentages are better than what we see when we look at women in executive roles – the other part of the Review’s change effort. 

The push for diversity at the top of organisations isn’t simply because that part of the organisation needs to change, but because until it does, we can’t meaningfully improve things lower down in the ranks. Leadership starts at the top. 

Leaders must reflect the values and ethos of the companies they lead, motivating other parts of their business to make diversity standard amongst workforces. Businesses have increased the proportion of female NEDs on their boards, but driving forward the number of women in board leadership roles – board and committee chairs, independent directors, CEOs and CFOs – will catalyse the rest of the organisation to change for better and for good. And as the launchpad into these key roles, embedding diversity into Executive Committees today will ensure a diverse pipeline of talent tomorrow. 

But in addition to changing people, we also need to change process. 

It is crucial that those responsible for selecting director candidates address and remedy their usual selection processes and biases. Boards must push themselves to look beyond traditional titles, roles and the intuitive “good fit”. Rather than focusing on job titles and qualifications, there is a need to focus on leadership attributes. Digging a little deeper will widen the candidate pool beyond the small pool of current CEOs and recently retired former executives, almost all of whom are white males. Boards should consider appointing women earlier in their careers – looking at those who have grown start-up companies, led major initiatives at large public companies, or demonstrated relevant success in other settings. 

To read the article in full, click here​.​​​