Recruitment of Women to Board Positions
Among the growing concerns of our clients has been diversity and parity at senior levels of management. This has been fostered by pressure from organizations themselves and from legislators in several countries. At Hightech Partners we have seen these concerns emerge in the technology sector across Europe.
We thought it would be useful to summarise our experience based on work performed for our Clients, involving the recruitment of non-Executive Board member(s), particularly women.
Here are some observations and reflections on our work:
- Limited pool of candidates
It is no surprise that the pool of experienced women candidates is limited. We know that to be true of senior positions, generally speaking but, this is even more so for non-executive Board positions. We also know that while this is the case in all sectors, it is even more so in high technology. The women candidates we did find seemed to be more in the Telecommunications and Media sectors. Candidates in the IT sector were scarce. Statistics by GMI, a global governance ratings agency, show that about 6% percent of board members in technology companies are women. By comparison, it is 13% in retail companies. We can all find the usual “suspects”, the more famous women who already sit on boards. But typically the number of Boards any given Director can sit on is limited to 4 or 5. The challenge for our firm was to go beyond the obvious ones and find right candidates for our client.
In this respect, this is good news for women candidates who are most often found in the areas of Finance, Marketing, HR, and Legal. On the other hand, this also means that to keep up with fast evolving technology (most often the core business of our clients), the individual is preferably still active as a senior executive or in specialized associations or groups. We also found it challenging to find candidates with the international breadth needed to deal with the global business concerns of our client.
- “Hot topic”
The topic is a “hot” one in Europe and particularly in France right now and stirred much discussion with women candidates we contacted. Several women’s groups have now put the topic of women on Boards on their agenda to encourage women to prepare themselves to take on such positions; this agenda is pushed by much controversy on upcoming quotas. In Fortune 500 board rooms, 15 percent of members are women. According to GMI, the average in Europe is around 9%, in Asia, about 4%. France is currently passing a legislation which will impose a 20% quota by the year 2013 and a 40% quota in public companies by the year 2016. This is just one example among several already passed in other countries. In face of this legislation, the risk for companies is to be pushed into naming women on their Boards who, because of the size of the pool of qualified candidates, would not have the level or skills required to hold such key roles. This would be reducing the roles of women on Boards to tokenism and have a negative impact on the efficiency of the board. This is where we help.
- A lot of potential and skills for the future but taking on the first role is a challenge:
The good news is that we found seasoned senior executives out there who are not only interested in taking on non-Executive positions but who have the skills to do so. Our finding was that qualified women often tended to wait until they retired or were in semi-retirement to take on such positions, with the thought that this would give them the time they needed to invest in the role. Given the above, this is one of the challenges for companies looking to add women on Boards, both in quality and in the quantity of potential candidates. Women also have trouble identifying how to make that first step and take on that very first role which will then facilitate taking on additional roles. This is where women’s groups will play an important role. We believe that we at Hightech Partners can, as well.
Our clients are interested in Board members who can be instrumental in the development of the business, complement skills of the management team,be capable of taking the helicopter view of managing a business in a quickly changing economical environment with even faster evolving technologies, and last but not least open doors and share relationships. On one hand, the corporate tradition to seek mainly CEOs or former CEOs seems to be losing ground to the benefit of valuing functional expertise.
Many studies show why Boards should include women, it is needless to add more. From a practical perspective, Hightech Partners has been and continues to identify excellent immediate candidates for Board positions including women who are currently experienced and who are very ready to bring a real added value to Board rooms. As we want to be one step ahead, we are also identifying the rising stars that will be ready to take on such roles in the next 2 to 3 years.
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