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More Women, More Diversity Of Experience In Boardrooms

Posted on March 4, 2013 at 1:05 PM

At last - intelligent research from an intelligent headhunting outfit. The profession as a whole has been remarkably quiet since it was first cast into the spotlight around the review by Lord Davies on the lack of representation of women on the boards of UK plc. 

I like the look of The Ashton Partnership . And the lack of time spent on waffle and 'building of mystique." It set out to examine the earlier executive career experience of all the 183 women currently on FTSE 250 boards and contrasted the findings to a comparable sample of FTSE 250 male NED appointees.

It found lots of interesting things (proving that if you ask a clever question rather than a silly one you are more likely to get a better answer):

  • the drive to appoint women NEDs is making the career backgrounds in FTSE 250 boardrooms more varied ie diverse (excellent)
  • the male NEDs tend still to have CEO and CFO backgrounds (interesting)
  • on average the female NEDs are younger than the men when they get their first NED role (excellent and interesting)
  • they are also less likely to have gained earlier main experience in an executive role (unsurprising and a good hedge against 'groupthink')

And some stats:

  • only 16% of the women came from traditional CEO/CFO background compared to 60% of men
  • 71% of women getting first FTSE 100 NED role had never been on a plc board before
  • 73% of the women appointed as NEDs had no previous main board experience
  • 43% of women had sizeable (non-board) leadership roles but they came from wider backgrounds than the men

This is the first search firm I have heard come out and say "While there has been some recent progress, women remain significantly less well represented on FTSE 250 Boards than in the FTSE 100. Additionally, there remains a perception that there is a limited pool of talent of women with suitably relevant, senior experience. We do not share that pessimism." Or that blinkered thinking, clearly.

Two-thirds of the women in this research were first appointed before the age of 50, which is typically five or so years earlier than their counterparts. "We believe this reflects in part the slightly lower level of career seniority at which many of these women were first appointed compared to the men. Hopefully it also reflects the increasing number of high calibre women coming through as senior Executives and therefore into the market as potential NEDs" says the report.

Does this mean that all these companies appointing women NEDs have taken an awful chance and their boardrooms and businesses are going to implode in the years to come ? Somehow, I don't think so - but it will be an interesting one to watch.

As will the changing professional face of headhunters. Some 'generational change' long overdue there as well.

Nick Aitchison, the partner leading the Board practice at The Ashton Partnership says: "Our latest Women on Boards research rejects the traditional misconception that there is a limited talent pool of women for NED roles. Boards are spreading the net more widely and, refreshingly, are appointing from a broader range of career backgrounds, without any obvious loss of quality."

Lord Davies will be relieved to hear it. Now we just have to ensure the momentum does not falter.

For details of the research try the website link above or contact


Categories: Women, Appointments, Representation