Companies seek all-female shortlists for board positions, says headhunter Business

UK companies have become so desperate to change the composition of their boards that they are urging headhunters to come up with all-female or all-BAME shortlists, it has emerged.

City headhunter Kate Grussing – who in 2019 became the first headhunter in 326 years to help the Bank of England find a new governor – said she had noticed that “demand for shortlists all-female or all-minority ethnicity is surging” among companies seeking to fill board positions as they “realize the pressure from regulators and the media isn’t going away.”

His comments come days after companies on the FTSE 350 were told by ministers that they must have at least one woman as chairman, chief executive, chief financial officer or senior independent director by the end of 2025.

Although companies are pushing for all-female, all-BAME shortlists, behind the scenes the practice is not seen as common due to fears it could leave companies open to complaints of discrimination from those who feel excluded from the process.

A source from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said there are specific circumstances in which such shortlists are permitted, but did not go into detail.

Employment experts have said in the past that all-female shortlists are illegal unless companies can demonstrate there are no men of equal merit for the job.

Former business secretary Sir Vince Cable backed recommendations for headhunters to draft women-only shortlists for board-level positions in 2014, but the idea was blocked by the British equality body.

At the time, a former chairman of the FTSE 100 attacked the idea, arguing it would mean women are not appointed on merit, “making their appointments symbolic” and setting them up for failure.

Sir Keir Starmer also pledged in 2020 to push for the law to be changed to allow Labor to select potential MPs from shortlists of only ethnic minority candidates.

The Labor leader argued at the time that the current selection system was ‘impenetrable’ and relied ‘too much on who people know’, meaning many ‘potentially excellent candidates’ were excluded.

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This notice was published: 2022-02-28 09:00:00

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