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Business secretary urges headhunters to seek out female talent

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All executive search firms have been urged by the business secretary, Vince Cable MP, to publish the numbers of men versus women they place in senior positions.

Cable claims this emphasis on transparency will help highlight those firms that are going the extra mile to find high-calibre female candidates and tackle gender imbalance in UK companies.

Speaking at an event on Friday at the London Stock Exchange, hosted by voluntary women's organisation, 30 Per Cent Club, the minister called on the CEOs of FTSE 350 companies to put stable plans in place to develop talented individuals in their organisation and ensure a healthy pipeline of female executives over the long term.

Cable went on to reveal that he is writing to every company and public body in which the department for business, innovation and skills (BIS) holds an interest with the same request, and will ask ministerial colleagues to do the same.

It was also revealed at the event, via data from Cranfield School of Management, that the proportion of female directors of FTSE 100 companies has risen to 17.4%, up from 12.5% in February 2011. That was when Lord Davies of Abersoch published a report on the subject and set a target of at least 25% female board members at FTSE 100 companies by 2015.

Cable said: "The great majority of business leaders I meet with now recognise the economic case for gender balance and are actively working with us to increase the number of women on their boards and executive committees. But we must also challenge the paternalistic culture and silent assumptions about women's priorities that are ultimately keeping the glass ceiling in place.

"Headhunters have a crucial role to play in making sure there is a diverse pool of talent for business to choose from. So we are urging them to fish in a bigger pond, to identify new talent and to shine a spotlight on the selection and appointments."

He added: "I am delighted that eight executive search firms have today agreed to publish the data they collect on the percentages of men and women longlisted, shortlisted and appointed to executive positions. This will allow businesses to work with search firms that promote and are transparent about this agenda."

Helena Morrissey, founder of the 30 Percent Club, said: "There's a lot that remains to be done, but a paradigm shift is well under way."