Egon Zehnder aims for boardroom revolution to recognise women

By Kate Burgess and Alison Smith

One of the UK’s leading executive search groups has set out to boost the number of female chief executives of the UK’s top 100 companies to 25 by 2025.

Egon Zehnder, which advises about half of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies on succession planning and recruitment, says only 9 per cent of top executive jobs at British companies are filled by women.

The headhunter will launch its “25 by 25” drive formally next month.

The initiative comes three years after the government-backed Davies review which said by 2015 that 25 per cent of FTSE 100 board members should be women as a way of improving diversity and avoiding group think.

There are now five female chief executives of FTSE 100 companies.

However, Miranda Pode, Egon Zehnder’s UK managing partner, said: “The debate on executive diversity is lagging behind [that on] non-executive directors.”

Just under 23 per cent of board positions are now filled by women, up from 16 per cent in 2012 and 10 per cent a decade ago. However, most of the growth has been among female non-executive directors. Women account for 9 per cent of leading executive roles, against 7.6 per cent in 2012 and 5.6 per cent in 2010.

Ms Pode said: “To get to 25 [female chief executives] by 2025 will not just happen naturally. Organisations need to be galvanised. They need a catalyst. This is a call to action.”

Egon Zehnder said more women coming up through the executive ranks would leave for non-executive directorships if the number of female chief executive role models does not rise.

There has already been a steady stream of former executives who have switched careers to take on a portfolio of non-executive positions. These include Penny Hughes, a former Coca-Cola executive and now a non-executive director of Royal Bank of Scotland and Sara Weller, former executive at Home Retail who is now a non-executive director at the Lloyds Banking Group and United Utilities.

Ms Pode says: “Our focus is on helping Britain’s largest companies do more to develop and retain their best women – this is what we think will bring real change.”

The group is aiming for one in six new chief executives who are appointed over the next decade to the UK’s largest companies to be women. On average about 17 FTSE 100 companies change their chiefs during a year. Two-thirds of chief executives are internal candidates, which suggests that companies have to do more to put women in their internal pipelines of potential candidates. Egon Zehnder is launching a programme for female executives with Mobius, the US career development group.

Originally published in Financial Times