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 90 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 beyond 40%, on FTSE 350 boards. The challenge over the next two years is to step up the appointment rate and drive further gains in the four key roles and on Executive Committees.

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 12 Executive Search firms that have qualified this year under the Enhanced Code of Conduct. These are the firms working hard to shift gender balance in FTSE 350 companies.


FTSE Women Leaders Enhanced Code of Conduct Accredited Executive Search Firms 2023

FTSE 350
Egon ZehnderRussell Reynolds
Heidrick & StrugglesSapphire Partners
Korn FerrySpencer Stuart
Lygon PartnersTeneo
MWM ConsultingWarren Partners
Odgers Berndtston
Beyond FTSE 350
Fidelio Partners

It is difficult to understate the major contribution that key stakeholders make in driving progress. During this phase of the Review and in conjunction with Investors, the Executive Search community can make a significant contribution and have a direct role to play in delivering upon Recommendation 3 – Locking in Progress on FTSE 350 Boards.

Like Investors, the Executive Search community are the holder of best practice and the architect able to design effective mechanisms to help fuel further progress. Equally important is their role in supporting the public listed boards that have made progress in recent years, to avoid slipping back.

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

“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

Despite the ongoing economic uncertainty, Investors continue to believe that diversity is a business imperative that results in better decision-making and plays an essential role in a company’s long-term success.

“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

Shareholder Voting on Diversity 
Investors are monitoring and tracking progress that companies are making on diversity, making use of their shareholder rights to hold companies to account where they fall short of expectations. There are increasing numbers of Nomination Committee Chairs receiving lesser levels of dissent on their re-election when their boards have women representing less than 33% of the board.

“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

Proxy Services Increasing Interest
Proxy advisory services are incorporating the diversity of the board as part of their analysis of companies. During 2022, ISS and Glass Lewis would normally recommend a vote against the Chair of the Nomination Committee if FTSE 350 companies had not met the 33% Women on Boards target. The IA’s Institutional Voting Information Service (IVIS) Red Topped companies that had 33% or less women on boards or 28%, or less women in their combined Executive Committee & Direct Reports.

New Listing Rules
Investors are now focussing on how companies respond to the FCA’s Listing Rules, which require disclosure of the diversity of the Board and Executive Committee and for companies to comply or explain against the 40% Women on Boards target and a woman holding one of the four key roles on the board (Chair, SID, CEO or FD). This detailed diversity information is anticipated to lead to more investor votes on Executive Committee diversity, which so far, has not been taken up on a widespread basis by investors. All of which will be helpful in driving further and faster progress.

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