FTSE 100 shortlists could harm equality

By on March 5, 2014
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British politician Vince Cable has called for the legality of women-only job candidate shortlists to be clarified, but such a policy could risk damaging women’s prospects.

Cable himself has backed the use of all-women shortlists for FTSE 100 board posts, a move that could stir up a hornet’s nest of business and legal problems.

Cable has asked the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to draw up guidance for head-hunters on whether female-only shortlists are in fact legal, a recommendation in a report by Nomura’s former Diversity Chief Charlotte Sweeney.

However, single sex shortlists could run into trouble if men left off them claim they have been discriminated against. “The difficulty with all-women shortlists is that it requires a selection to be made on the basis of gender, which, on the face of it, directly contravenes fundamental principles of EU law prohibiting sex discrimination,” says Audrey Williams, a partner at law firm Eversheds.

Other proposals in Sweeney’s review of headhunting include executive search firms putting at least one woman on board shortlists, publishing information about gender balance at various stages of the recruitment process and creating a database of board-ready women.

Only 20.4 percent of FTSE 100 board places are filled by women, a big improvement from 12.5 percent in 2011 but still some way off true equality. Meanwhile, a paltry four FTSE 100 CEOs are women and there are a mere two chairwomen.

However, all-female shortlists risk becoming tokenistic as well as potentially running into a thicket of legal issues. Women should be at the top on merit, not because they make up the numbers.

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