Damhurst & Co are actively working with clients to increase their awareness of unconscious bias and recognise unhelpful habitual recruiting practices, particularly those which reinforce stereotypes and stifle genuine growth.

Whilst the focus will always remain on appointing “best in class”, the team has developed a number of strategies and techniques to help broaden a client’s candidate pool.

In 2011 the government commissioned the Davies Review, which in turn proposed that the UK executive search industry devise a voluntary code of conduct.  Over 70 of the country’s most prominent search firms have since signed up to this code of conduct and Damhurst & Co are proud supporters of this.

The FTSE 350 now has a higher female representation than ever before, with appointments more than doubling since 2011.  The FTSE 100 boasts over 26% at board level and nearly 20% on the FTSE 250.  The insurance market has yet to achieve such figures but with an open mind and collaborative approach progress will be made.

Code of Conduct as set out in the Davies Review 2011 (revised 2014):

Search firms should support chairmen and their nomination committees in developing medium-term succession plans that identify the balance of experience and skills that they will need to recruit for over the next two to three years to maximise board effectiveness. This time frame will allow a broader view to be established by looking at the whole board, not individual hires; this should facilitate increased flexibility in candidate specifications.

When taking a specific brief, search firms should look at overall board composition and, in the context of the board’s agreed aspirational goals on gender balance and diversity more broadly, explore with the chairman if recruiting women directors is a priority on this occasion.

In defining briefs, search firms should work to ensure that significant weight is given to relevant skills, underlying competencies and personal capabilities and not just proven career experience, in order to extend the pool of candidates beyond those with existing board roles or conventional corporate careers.

When presenting their longlists, search firms should try to ensure that at least 30% of the candidates are women – and, if not, should explicitly justify to the client why they are convinced that there are no other qualified female options, through demonstrating the scope and rigour of their research. Search firms should seek to ensure that the shortlist is appropriately reflective of the longlist, discussing with their clients each woman on the longlist and aiming to have at least one woman whom they would ‘strongly recommend’ that the client should meet.

During the selection process, search firms should provide appropriate support, in particular to first-time candidates, to prepare them for interviews and guide them through the process.

As clients evaluate candidates, search firms should ensure that they continue to provide appropriate weight to intrinsic competencies and capabilities, supported by thorough referencing, rather than over-valuing certain kinds of experience. Search firms should, as necessary, advise their clients on how to run their interview process to demonstrate the required rigour and professionalism and share best practices on how to avoid unconscious gender bias.

Search firms should provide advice to clients on best practice in induction and ‘on boarding’ processes to help new board directors settle quickly into their roles.

Search firms should ensure that best practices in supporting clients on enhancing board gender diversity are well-documented and shared internally and that adherence to the Code is effectively monitored.

Search firms should signal their commitment to supporting gender diversity on boards, and their adherence to the Code, through their websites, marketing literature and client discussions. They should share data on their track record on their website as appropriate and include case studies of their success.

Search firms should seek to broaden their own databases of potential candidates, leveraging as appropriate external lists produced by organisations such as Cranfield. They are encouraged to invest time into developing relationships with the pipeline of future female candidates.