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Business and academia should share female talent

There are currently just eight academic NEDs on the boards of FTSE 100 companies

Companies and universities should share female talent to boost gender and professional diversity, according to research by Oxford Brookes University’s Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice.

Changing Places: Women on Boards was commissioned by the 30% Club Higher Education Working Group and co-sponsored by KPMG. It found that there are just eight academic NEDs on the boards of FTSE 100 companies, compared with 59 academic directors serving on Fortune 100 boards in the US.

Of the eight in the FTSE 100 four are male and four are female, suggesting gender is not a major barrier for academics joining FTSE 100 boards.

However, while 33% of women on university boards come from the private sector less than 2% of female NEDs in the FTSE 100 come from academia. This means cross-sector mobility has huge potential to improve the gender diversity of boards.

Melanie Richards, vice chair of KPMG in the UK, said that HR needs to move the diversity debate on from focusing solely on gender, to aiming for a mix of professional and sector backgrounds on boards.

“There seems to be a degree of caution from corporates that bringing senior academics into the boardroom may result in longer deliberations for certain issues,” she said. “However, by bringing together a more diversified group business may benefit from more thoughtful discussions, which should strengthen the quality of decision-making and outcomes.

“It is clear that academia remains a largely untapped talent pool for UK PLC and there is much work to be done to promote mobility in both directions. Businesses need to open their eyes to the advantages of a more diversified board and the capabilities that senior academics, both male and female, can bring.”

Simonetta Manfredi, professor in equality and diversity management and director of the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice, explained that while there has been good progress in improving equality more must be done.

“The corporate and higher education sectors share a common goal of increasing gender diversity on their boards,” she said. “Therefore there is a compelling case for these two sectors to tap into each other’s female talent pipeline. The report shows that many businesswomen bring their skills to university boards. However, the talent of senior female (and male) academics remains largely untapped, in contrast to the US where many more companies have academic non-executive directors.”