All-women shortlists for boards unlawful

Women-only shortlists for boards are unlawful, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has declared. It has now launched an inquiry into board recruitment and appointment practices at the top 350 listed companies.

Mon, 28 July 2014Women-only shortlists for boards are unlawful, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has declared. It has now launched an inquiry into board recruitment and appointment practices at the top 350 listed companies.

Chaired by EHRC commissioner Laura Carstensen, the inquiry will work closely with these companies to examine their recruitment and selection processes and the experience of applicants and decision makers. The aim is to identify recruitment practices that deliver open, fair decisions that are based on merit.    

This inquiry follows a previous commission report, which found that selection processes that favour candidates with similar characteristics to existing, largely male board members, were holding back the appointment of women to FTSE 350-listed non-executive director roles. The findings will be published in 2015.

In a press statement, Ms Carstensen said: “Research suggests that companies with diverse boards produce better performance and many companies recognise this. Equality is for everyone, and it is clear that there is still much more to be done to ensure that women have an equal opportunity to succeed on merit in gaining board positions.

“A lack of gender balance on boards is a detriment not only to women with the ability to hold such roles but also to businesses and the economy. In an ever-more competitive and global economy, we cannot afford to be overlooking the talent of half of our population.”

In addition, the commission set out a number of measures to improve the representation of women on boards. These include: setting aspirational targets for increasing the number of women on boards within a set timescale; encouraging networking for women; and providing mentoring and sponsor programmes for women to develop talent.

The guidance also stated that using women-only shortlists to increase gender representation on boards is unlawful under equality law. This has thwarted business secretary Vince Cable’s attempts to use positive discrimination to get women on the boards of major companies.

Several leading recruitment firms were contacted on the measures taken by the EHRC and the issue of female representation on company boards, but all of them declined to comment. Some said this topic was too sensitive to make public comments on.

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