Where are the women? A frequent excuse for the low representation of women on boards is that there are no women candidates. Companies can use a variety of strategies to address this. However, absolutely crucial is the realization that there are more than enough viable candidates. The recent experience in Norway shows that companies have found qualified women when they have been forced to look for them.


Questions companies need to ask:

What kind of directors and with what qualifications do we need? Can directors with experience from other domains be useful?

How do we look for board members? Using search organizations and directories can turn up unknown potential. For example: the organisations in European Women on Boards provide indexes of women who are ‘Board Ready’ but headhunting organisations also specialize in looking for innovative candidates.

Increasingly major consulting agencies such as Price, Waterhouse Cooper, McKinsey and Ernst & Young all provide clients with advice about recruiting and diversifying their management and boards.

The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission warns against the pitfalls in recruiting to the board, recommending that companies “Take particular care with criteria related to subjective, unspecified concepts such as ‘chemistry’ or ‘fit’, which may result in a board recruiting in its own image.” And that they “avoid relying only on personal networks and word-of-mouth recruitment as this significantly restricts the pool of applicant.”(as cited in Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2016, p. 5-6)

The following sections highlight practices to find candidates both within your firm and outside to diversify your board.


Example : Recruitment companies specializing increasingly in helping to find board candidates

Spencer Stuart and WomenCorporateDirectors January 2015


Example : How big companies influence headhunters to provide diverse candidates

Microsoft Belgium – Ecosystem diversity: from recruitment to roadmap

RecruitementThe attraction of female talent is one of the top priorities for Microsoft. In order to facilitate this process, a number of concrete actions were undertaken including the mandatory building up of a diverse candidate inflow (50% of the candidates in the shortlist must have diverse talent). This means an active involvement of hiring managers in the recruitment of diverse talent. – In each order to a headhunter, 50% of the shortlist must contain diverse personnel.  Microsoft also sponsors various events and sends out speakers to talk about the importance of diversity. – This is important for the existing diverse talent and to ensure maximum retention and promotion to higher management levels. The Microsoft Diversity Roadmap shows how this is approached holistically at various stages, with a link to various business processes.

(Microsoft – Ecosystem diversity: from recruitment to roadmap, from


Growing your own Candidates: the Pipeline

Ensure that your pipeline does not have leaks, so that there are potential candidates moving into higher management.


Finding Qualified and Diverse Candidates: Fishing in External Pools

Too often the search for new board members occurs in closed circles that are often quite homogeneous.


Sponsorship and Mentoring Programmes

One of the most widely spread strategies to move more diverse people into leadership positions is through mentoring.


Practices in Nominating Committees

A solid and structured nomination process is key in building a diverse and qualified board.