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Board-ready women 'overlooked' by executive search companies

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Executive search organisations are not putting women forward for executive roles, despite having sufficient competence for the roles, an expert has warned.

Charlotte Sweeney, director at Charlotte Sweeney Associates and leader of the Power of Diversity programme, said: "Senior women I know say it’s amazing that executive recruiters never knock on their door for roles on boards even though they are directors at big companies.”

Sweeney was speaking at a panel discussion on the Recruitment and Employment Confederation report Room at the Top, which explored why there is still a low number of women in UK boardrooms. Only 7.1% of executive directors at FTSE 100 companies are women.

Women on Boards, which promotes boardroom diversity, aims to increase that figure to 25% in the coming years. The organisation has a website and network of 6,000 senior female professionals whom it helps to obtain executive roles.

Director Rachel Tranter claimed women she knew had also been passed over by executive search companies.

“We had one woman who we put forward for a role. Her name had not been forwarded to the client initially for the role because they felt she lacked gravitas,” she said. "She ended up getting the job. It shows that women do have the skills to get the top jobs,"

Krystyna Nowak, managing director at executive search firm Norman Broadbent, claimed that recruiters should be pushing back to clients to make sure selection processes are fair for women.

“Nine out of 10 clients will initially tell me that previous PLC board experience is crucial for a role they’re recruiting for," she said. "When we challenge them on it they will often accept that this isn’t in fact the case. If we can get the client to widen the brief, this will help women, and some men, to break into the boardroom for the first time.”