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Tackling the Deficiencies of Professional Networks

Defining the Problem:

  • – Professional networks are the most prevalent method for appointing to the board of directors, perpetuating the gender imbalance on boards. Nearly half of life sciences companies (46%) report using professional networks to appoint board candidates.
  • – Women-only groups are not offering a total market solution to companies wishing to access women leaders because just 13% of women report these networks as valuable in growing their networks.
  • – C-suite women are not establishing strong networks with executive search firms. Companies are employing the services of search firms for C-suite hiring (42%) but few women (7%) report finding their C-suite positions this way.

These network approaches are not increasing the participation of women at either the C-suite or board. Companies explain they are using networks because they are low-cost and offer a level of candidate ‘validation’. The way Venture Capitalists tend to recycle CEOs, and other executives, from within their network is an example. Professional networks do not reach the best people universally and often introduce recruitment processes that lack structure and rigour, leading to appointments based on historical and personal factors, and which are not always well suited the requirement at hand.

However, boards and executive management teams that do report using executive search firms for hiring suggest that they are often disappointed with the number of women ultimately presented to them as part of the long and shortlists. This view is partly supported by the data suggesting women at the C-level are not finding their roles this way. Both parties are suggesting that there is insufficient network engagement between the search companies and women executives, the reasons for which are so far unclear.

Liftstream Delivering a Solution:

Our intentional approach to cultivating diverse candidates since 2005, gives us the ability to access people that our clients would not otherwise reach. We also host several annual events for industry executives that target women and diverse candidates from across the community which help to develop these networks and increase the probability of lasting relationships between us.

Our search and evaluation process has been designed to eliminate bias and preference, focusing solely on the individual merits of each candidate. And because the evidence shows it is crucial to engaging women, we have introduced more comprehensive feedback approaches to ensure all candidates receive detailed, fair and constructive feedback.

Our fee structure balances cost, value and performance relative to the different success drivers of board and executive hiring. At both the board and executive levels, we have introduced contractual commitments on our part to fulfil gender diversity objectives, thereby tying diversity to financial reward – and going beyond rhetoric to accountable action.

Liftstream is committed to meeting the requirement (Voluntary Code of Conduct – UK Government) to always shortlist a minimum of one woman, and we aspire to achieve 50/50 balance as a standard.

Liftstream Target:

To achieve an annualised 50/50 gender balance across all assignment shortlists by 2021, while addressing all other dimensions of diversity.

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