Diversity targets may feel ‘tick box’, but research shows that cognitive diversity improves decision-making. So broadening the talent pool in the boardroom – where the ultimate decisions are made on strategy, ethics and risk – can have an outsize impact on the success and sustainability of an organisation.
Historically, getting to the top has been strongly influenced by who you know/what school you went to, but this preference to work with ‘people like us’ narrows the gene pool of leadership by excluding people with different backgrounds and perspectives.
There is no shortage of well-qualified female candidates to fill board roles in the UK, but these candidates are often harder to find and are less likely to fit the traditional mould.
“A long list of nine candidates of the highest quality [came] predominantly from the advertisement on Women on Boards. Their evidenced track record of results was amazing,” Jane Williams of People Innovation Ltd
To improve the odds of tapping into the broadest possible pool of top talent, the research suggests that you need to change your board recruitment process. Specifically:
Refine your requirements
Slim down your recruitment brief to the genuine ‘must-haves’ for the new board member, which in reality usually comes down to 2 or 3 areas of experience that no one else on the board can provide. Long wish-lists of skills result in fewer female candidates applying*.
Anonymise the early selection steps
Recent research indicates we are all over-confidant in our ability to make unbiased hiring decisions: we continue to recruit in our own image whilst being convinced we are selecting solely on merit. Removing candidate names and university names during the filtering process is the first step to overcoming our biases. The next is to rank each candidate solely on how well they have evidenced their fit with the ‘must-have’ requirements.
Turn on the floodlights
Board recruitment has traditionally drawn from a relatively small circle of ‘usual suspects’ who are already known to the board or the recruiter. To ensure you select from the widest possible pool of candidates you should combine several recruitment options: task headhunters with creating a diverse short-list; publicise via social media channels and make use of specialist non-executive vacancy boards – including Women on Boards’ Vacancy Board (which is free to advertise on).
“I am a real-life example that transparent advertising works and of the value added by Women on Boards.” Susana Gomez Smith appointed as a Non-Executive Board Member at Leonteq AGM, having seen the role on Women on Boards’ Vacancy Board.
Given the positive impact a well-rounded board can have on organisational success, rethinking your board recruitment process to open it up to more diverse candidates is likely to be an investment with a strong return.
Find out more about Women on Boards and how to advertise a board role to our network at www.womenonboards.net
*research shows that the threshold for women is when they tick ~70% of the requirements; men are more likely to apply even when they tick only one third.
Rowena Ironside has been a non-executive in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors since 2006. She has been executive Chair of Women on Boards since its launch in the UK in 2012 and currently sits on the boards of the Digital Catapult and the Cabinet Office Elections and Registrations Division.
Rowena spent 25 years as an executive in the ICT sector, building an IT services business in London in the 1980’s; and running international services businesses in the software and hosting industries.