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Headhunters can play role in boosting women in UK boardrooms: review

Workers walk in the rain at the Canary Wharf business district in London November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Workers walk in the rain at the Canary Wharf business district in London November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

By Jemima Kelly

LONDON (Reuters) - Headhunter firms should do more to help boost the number of women sitting on British boards, including compiling a list of "board-ready women," a government-backed review said on Tuesday.

The independent review by Charlotte Sweeney, a diversity consultant, made 10 recommendations to increase the number of women on the boards of Britain's biggest companies.

"The headhunting community is a crucial catalyst to introduce more capable women in the boardroom," said Business Secretary Vince Cable, who commissioned the review.

"However, they can often be one of the first hurdles that talented, board-ready women face when trying to reach the top, so I welcome any efforts to improve the transparency of the industry."

The review called on headhunting firms to share gender ratio statistics with the government at all stages of recruitment so that it can assess how successfully its gender equality "code of conduct", set out in a 2011 review and signed up to by 70 search firms, is being implemented.

The 2011 government review, by former trade minister Lord Mervyn Davies, said all FTSE 100 <.FTSE> companies should aim for at least a quarter of their boards to be comprised of women by 2015, though it stopped short of advocating enforced quotas.

Some progress has already been made, with women now making up 20.4 percent of board seats in Britain's 100 biggest listed companies, up from 12.5 percent when Davies conducted his review, according to the latest data from the Professional Boards Forum, which tracks female board appointments.

Two all-male FTSE 100 boards still remain: Glencore Xtrata and Antofagasta .

FTSE 250 companies lag behind, with women making up just 15.1 percent of those board seats.

Sweeney's review said "a database of board-ready women" should be created and shared with other shareholders, like investor groups and the 30 Percent Club, an independent organization named after its target for female board representation.

The review also proposed that executive search firms should commit to putting forward at least one strongly recommended woman on the short lists given to the chairs of companies for all board positions.

Davies will publish his annual "Women on Boards" report later this month.

(Reporting by Jemima Kelly; Editing by Leslie Adler) nL6N0M04G1

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