Chairman’s Network Ltd- Promoting and appointing women (and diversity) in the boardroom.
By CEO, Caroline Hayward
” FTSE 100 firms should be aiming for a minimum of 25% female board-member representation by 2015” Lord Davies, February 2011
On the back of the now historical research from Lord Davies regarding the significant lack of women on UK Boards, there has been some improvement, particularly on PLC boards but at the SME level we feel strongly that we should still be actively promoting and assisting in the appointment of women and diversity in the boardroom and we welcome the support of the members of The Chairman’s Network to underpin that aim.
Untapped female board talent at the SME level
We are aware of a number of senior and exceptionally qualified women who have never been approached for a board opportunity with another company.
Much of this female talent is below the radar i.e. senior women CEO’s/MD’s, CFO’s and Board/Non-Executive Directors that are supremely qualified to take on more or additional Board roles but are not known yet to the wider SME community and have no means of registering their interest to take on more roles. Headhunters are often aware of the top female talent in FTSE 350 companies but have not built up their contacts in the SME sector partly because the volume is so great and partly because the demand for diversity has not been there from hiring clients until now.
We know that a “catch 22” exists for both men and women i.e. if you have never been a Chairman or Non Executive Director then how does the hiring company know that you can be successful in this role? I always say that the first Non Executive role is always the hardest to nail and that is the case even for people that have run their own companies for decades!
In fact, we believe that the transition to a Non Executive role may not be as difficult as potential employers make out but would urge an IOD course on the roles and responsibilities as well as ensuring that liability insurance is in place before taking up the new role.
Bur for women at the moment it maybe even harder as there are relatively few female role models that have made that transition and that is reflected in far too few female members of the Chairman’s Network. This must now change and we are actively asking any potentially interested women to join, particularly if they would like to be considered for NXD appointments.
We are also urging hiring CEO’s and Chairmen who are reviewing Board Diversity and Executive Search firms recruiting the same to join us so that we can connect all parties to the good of SME businesses.
Once a new appointment is posted, we have access over 5000 Chairmen, CEO’s and Directors for each and every opportunity. Individual Chairmen, Members or Service Providers (Executive search, VC etc.) can also network freely with other Members to source potential candidates- most of whom are looking for additional roles, which is one of the key reasons that Members join The CHAIRMAN’S Network.
The Chairman’s Network can act as “the meeting place”- a hub for great business events for Chairmen, CEO’s and Directors but also in bringing qualified candidates to potentially interested companies across all sectors of the SME market in the UK and Internationally.
Employers must be more open to diversity across their businesses including the board and to consider appointing Directors that may not have previously been Non Executives.
All the senior women that I have spoken to do not want government quotas for this but want to be appointed on merit as part of a diverse shortlist and not just a female one. This has to be the right way forward in principal- but employers must be more open to that diversity.
Lord Davies also talks about “headhunting firms should draw up a voluntary code of practice addressing gender diversity in relation to board level appointments to FTSE 350 companies”. As a headhunter myself in my other company Hayward & Associates Ltd, I would argue that certainly at the SME level we are already applying the above as we are only concerned with talent of any gender or age but in many cases we have a dearth of suitably qualified female candidates even after extensive searching. A female Chairman of a technology firm would be a classic example of that.
Additionally, we still have clients that need to open their preconceptions about how they would like that open role filled and give us an altogether wider and less constraining remit.
If more women can gain good Board experience at the SME level then they will be ideally suited to taking on the larger remits and responsibilities of FTSE companies.
Alternatively, these women may choose to remain at the SME level adding real shareholder value to the companies they represent and underpinning the business growth at the SME level that the UK so badly needs to harness.
+44 (0)1242 236277
Membership of The Chairman’s Network gives both potential employers of more diverse boards and senior female talent a vehicle for connecting, networking and potential board appointments.