Executive Search Firms

The executive search community got together in 2011 and drew up their own Voluntary Code of Conduct to support their clients in improving the gender balance on their boards. Over 70 firms are now signatories to the standard Code of Conduct.

The Enhanced Code of Conduct requires a more exacting standard of best practice on gender equal selection. Accreditation under the Code is performance/output based, as well as qualitative. It acknowledges those firms at the forefront of helping boards enhance their gender balance, with a strong track record in promoting gender diversity in the FTSE 350 and having done much to fuel the progress towards 33%, and now moving towards 40%, on FTSE 350 boards.

Accredited firms are required to have demonstrated the following in the last 12 months:

  • At least 40% of their FTSE 100 and 40% FTSE 250 board appointments have been to women
  • To have supported the appointment of at least 4 women to FTSE 350 boards
  • To have a proven record of helping women to achieve their first board appointment

Congratulations to the 9 Executive Search Firms that have qualified this year under the Enhanced Code of Conduct for the FTSE 350, and to the 3 Executive Search Firms working with smaller FTSE listed companies, large privately owned, Government or Not-for-Profit Boards, that are also recognised below in a separate ‘Beyond FTSE 350’ category. These are the firms in the UK who are currently appointing more women than most to British boards and working hard to shift gender balance at the top.


Enhanced Code Accredited Firms

FTSE 350Beyond FTSE 350
Egon ZehnderFidelio Partners
Heidrick & StrugglesGreen Park
Warren PartnersSapphire Partners
Korn Ferry
MWM Consulting
Odgers Berndtston
Ridgeway Partners
Russell Reynolds
Spencer Stuart

The Executive Search community needs to be commended for working together and in support of their clients to achieve greater gender balance on boards, at the same time as raising the bar on themselves. They have collectively been a major driver of progress.

The current added-value opportunity for search firms is to repeat this success in building gender balance in the Executive Committees and senior leadership roles. During 2021, almost two out of every three available roles in the year went to men, so the role of the Executive Search Community working alongside companies will be invaluable to increase this appointment rate. The firms showing the greatest appetite for innovation, those producing gender balanced short lists and actively supporting the appointment of capable women, are those firms most likely to achieve the greatest competitive advantage.

Laura Sanderson
Russell Reynolds Associates

“What a long way we have come since 2010 when The Davies Review first catalysed us to work together with colleagues across the industry to increase the proportion of women on boards. What a lot we have learned about how to find, coach and advocate for well qualified women who can be duly appointed on a purely meritocratic basis.
There is more to do now to increase the proportion of women on executive committees and in Chair roles, and to close the gender pay gap, but since we know now that the rewards are nothing less than more effective leadership of the UK’s companies, the stakes are high.”

Louise Angel
Ridgeway Partners

“We expect that, much like hybrid working, hybrid interview processes are here to stay. Agility is not a substitute for rigour and quality of process, but smart boards are now incorporating some virtual interviews as standard, to help them run an efficient, inclusive and timely process.”


“We need to galvanise investors to use their voting powers to press for this change with a two-pronged benefit – gender representation and increased accountability. The power of investor action and voting cannot be overestimated.”
Michelle Scrimgeour, Chief Executive Legal & General Investment Management

Investors view diversity as a core and critical business issue that boards and leadership teams must address to secure their long-term success.  Investor pressure is on for companies to maintain and build on progress on gender diversity at the board level, leadership teams and throughout the workforce. Significant progress is still required by some to meet and maintain all the former targets set by the HamptonAlexander Review. Investors want to ensure that progress does not stagnate and a culture of diversity continues to be embedded in boardrooms. Shareholders are looking for companies to go beyond the 33% threshold, and further increase the diversity of their boards and leadership teams.

Why it matters: Investment Managers are firm in the belief that companies which embrace gender diversity can expand their access to talent, command the trust of their customers and key stakeholders, and have the tools to be more innovative and make better business decisions. They are better equipped to deliver long term sustainable returns for investors.

Diversity is a universal governance consideration for every business and therefore a key driver for investors’ engagement with companies. Investors want to understand not just how companies will meet the public targets, but how they are cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce and a pipeline of talent that will ensure the business thrives in a modern economy.

Voting against Directors over diversity concerns: Investors are increasingly using their voting rights to hold companies to account on diversity where they are seeing little progress. The Investment Association’s Public Register details companies in the UK FTSE All Share that have received significant opposition (of 20% or more) by shareholders to a resolution. In 2021, 8 companies in the FTSE 350 noted in their AGM results statement that they had received significant shareholder votes against Director re-elections due to a lack of diversity on the board and in leadership teams.

“As stewards of our clients’ capital we must help our companies do better. Evidence and experience tells us that diverse teams make better decisions. As investors, we can – and must – drive that change to the benefit of all.”
Devan Kaloo, Global Head of Equities, abrdn Plc

Calling out companies with poor progress in gender diversity: The Investment Association’s research service, the Institutional Voting Information Service (IVIS), provides independent information on listed companies to help shareholders reach a decision on how to vote at AGMs. This year, IVIS will continue to increase the pressure on those companies making poor progress on gender diversity – issuing a red top, the highest level of warning for those companies with 33% or less of Women on Board and 28% or less of the Executive Committee and their Direct Reports.

“The power of investor capital is making its mark, as diversity emerges as an economic and strategic imperative. We’ve seen a substantial change in terms of engagement, with diversity a regular feature and company leaders actively approaching investors to explain how they are addressing gender imbalance in the workplace. This is signifcant, as CEO commitment is a key game changer.”
Deborah Gilshan & Clare Payn
Co-Chairs, 30% Club Investor Group

The FTSE Women Leaders Review is particularly grateful to institutional investors for their recognition of the importance of boardroom diversity in delivering long-term sustainable returns and the strong support of the Investment Association, the Investor Forum and the 30% Club Investor Group.

In the Media

Women must make up one-third of senior directors by 2020, companies told
Companies must do more than take the tokenistic step of appointing just one woman to their board and consider that job done
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FTSE 350 firms under fire over ‘unacceptable’ lack of female directors
Investor group urges listed firms with only one woman on board to address diversity targets
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Scores of ‘out of touch’ FTSE bosses told off for lack of women on boards
Scores of Britain’s biggest businesses have been named and shamed for their failure to appoint enough women to their boards.
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