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Wednesday 29th May 2024, 2:00 PM (BST)

Headhunters Called For Transparency In Women Recruitment

Headhunters Called For Transparency In Women Recruitment

As the call for gender equality in the workforce rings louder than ever, headhunters could be expected to publish information regarding the number of women on their shortlists.


At a time when diversity in the workplace is still one of the biggest challenges many employers face, it’s vital that plans to improve female representation in the most senior levels of organisations stay high on the agenda for both businesses and governments.

Even though new proposals that would see headhunters publish data on the number of women on shortlists have not received universal praise, it seems there is a mounting body of support for such a move.


Last week a report by Charlotte Sweeney, compiled at the request of the government, investigated the voluntary code of conduct currently adhered to by executive search firms. The Charlotte Sweeney report recommended that headhunters should always be expected to put forward one woman when they compile shortlists for roles on company boards.

There were other more controversial suggestions in the report, such as guidance on the legality of women-only shortlists and the idea of a special database of “board-ready women”, which have arguably attracted more attention. But it is interesting that a second report has reached a similar conclusion on the rules which dictate how headhunters look for new candidates.


New research published by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) shows that of the women who has reached the boards of FTSE 100 companies, half had been promoted from within their own organisation. Among men, the figure rose to 62 per cent. At the same time, three-quarters of FTSE 100 firms used executive search companies when they were recruiting.

It seems that the underrepresentation of women at the top levels of organisations could be at least partially down to this – women are less likely to be promoted internally, and they are also less likely to gain the favour of external recruiters. As a result, REC argues that headhunters should be forced to publish information on the proportion of women who make it onto their longlists and shortlists.


Not everyone is in favour of the plans – writing in Management Today, Rachel Savage argues that legislation is not the right solution. Not only would they be legally dubious, but they could potentially become “tokenistic”. But it seems that there is a growing body of support for measures that will compel headhunters to be transparent on gender diversity.

“Executive search firms play a vital role helping employers to take a much broader view of what the best candidate for a top job might look like,” said Kevin Green, REC chief executive.

“The best headhunters know it’s their responsibility to challenge employers, probe old assumptions and unconscious biases that can mean some businesses are missing out on top female talent.”


<Image courtesy Chatham House/Some rights reserved>

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