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5 Steps to Appointing More Executive Women

Author: Karl Simpson

This month, Corporate-UK trumpeted the fact that the FTSE 100 has reached a target threshold of 25% women representation across their board of directors (here). This is an achievement driven by voluntary participation encouraged from the targets set out in the Davies Review and perhaps begins to demonstrate that if corporates exercise the right process, they can increase representation at the board and executive level of women.

Part of the reconfiguration of the recruitment process that Chairs, CEOs and nomination committees have undertaken is to require more extensively selected and diversified shortlists. The assumption being, correctly, that unless you have the candidates in the race, they cannot be first to the post.

This is widely supported as good practice, with many believing that selection processes should be given even more time to include a more diverse slate of candidates. This approach, however, would be against the natural competitive intuition of the talent market. To extend search times introduces risks and vulnerability into the recruiting process which is designed to find the very best candidates, so it becomes non-competitive and therefore unlikely to prove unsustainable. Those involved in recruiting have to find other and more efficient ways to bolster their prospect lists with female candidates if they want to address gender equity.

The candidate shortlist is only a part of the process though, and many people report of a sense of being on the shortlist simply to make the process look more diverse; making up the numbers. Our own research on this topic has suggested that companies are doing far more to increase the gender balance representation on shortlists, but this still is not equating to the appointment of women in the numbers required to be transformational across companies of all sizes and maturity.

So what is going on here, why are the conversion rates not impressive? Well, further diagnostic work and longitudinal studies are required by nominations committees, executive teams and HR offices to deeply analyse this. The process between shortlisting and appointment, where the discussions are far more contextual, seemingly cause female candidates to fallout of the process and we need to understand why. This is reported as being two-way; candidates being rejected, but also candidates pulling out at this advanced stage. So how can you take steps to improve this? – Here are 5 things you can do:

Challenge pre-conceptions about what you need:

Writing a job description is a process that needs careful consideration. Most are structured around a utopic wish-list, regurgitated historical specifications or populated with responsibilities and credentials derived you’d intellectually perceive someone holding a similar post to possess. This needs to be challenged. Many job profiles have requirements that are not necessary for the person to possess, often narrowing or limiting the potential candidate pool to the status quo. By challenging these notions, which your recruiters must also do, you have the potential to introduce recruiting opportunities while still getting a suitably qualified candidate, thereby managing risk.

Design a balanced process:

Statistically, companies are highly male dominated, particularly at the board and senior executive level. It is therefore safe to assume, that interviewing and assessment procedures are also heavily populated with males. This has the potential to skew the process in many ways. Reducing the potential for bias, conscious or unconscious, is a key factor in achieving mutual assessment of the genders. The similarity-attraction hypothesis determines that we are inclined to prefer candidates that reflect our own identity characteristics, and so male dominance in the interview panel will be likely seen in the results. Equally, eliminating gender signals in the way candidates are treated can greatly improve things, which can be done by paying attention to the use of language, actions and process orchestration. There are many factors which could deter perfectly suitable candidates and there should be a high degree of awareness and sensitivity to these issues.

Go beyond your network:

Selecting people from your network to work with is a behaviour which shapes most recruitment, this is particularly true in small companies who have unstructured processes. The prevalence of finding and selecting ex-colleagues, fellow college alumni or even friends of friends, remains a prominent feature. To introduce improved diversity, recruitment processes must encompass broad searches, going well beyond your network and pooling candidates from places you had not expected. Only then are you truly breaking into new and diverse talent markets that offer interesting and compelling experiences. Recruiting people you know is also often explained as acquiring people who are culturally aligned to the company. Unpicking this ‘cover-all’ evaluation, you’ll find that there are rigorous ways to identify the right competencies and characteristics in candidates which will open avenues to diverse talent.

Understanding your candidate’s motives:

Many of us lack the ability to see another person’s perspective with absolute clarity. This is acutely true in hiring too. People are all driven by individual influences and have personal goals, these are rarely identical. Gender differences certainly exist in the area of motivations and success drivers. Male executives sitting on management teams or a nomination committee, must acknowledge these differences and offer richer positioning of the opportunity. To frame an opportunity through the prism of their personal success factors is likely to encourage gender difference in motivation towards the proposition. In recent research we conducted, our qualitative interviews showed that women executives were more likely to be attracted towards building something, to creating a market-shaping company, rather than simply making money from a venture, which is an example of the different values.

Learn from each candidate:

Every hiring process can improve, and with every candidate we can learn something. Openness, transparency and effective feedback mechanisms can deeply enhance the effectiveness of recruiting. In the main, companies recruit around 4 men for every women at senior levels, therefore it is vitally important that on those occasions where women are involved as candidates in the recruitment process, efforts must be made to diagnose why they have or haven’t been successful.  This feedback must be recycled back into the hiring process to improve it for future cases. Improved structure, process and analytics will reveal flaws and advantages to the way you recruit, use those to incrementally tweak or revolutionise your recruitment process.

For further advice on how to improve gender diversity in your recruitment, contact us. To read our research papers on the topic, you can click Investing In Biotechnology Management, as well as Diversifying the Outlook. Join the debate on twitter by using the hashtag #InvestinBioMgt 

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