No to All Male Boards

27 January 2020

Andrew Guy
Partner, UK

 

The Goldman Sachs announcement last week that it will not be providing IPO advice to clients with all male boards is a noteworthy battle honour in the diversity skirmishes of the early 21st century. Historians may comment on its efficacy in hindsight…

 

David Solomon said the Wall Street giant won’t take any company public unless it has at least one “diverse” board member. See the NY Times coverage here.

 

For Executive Search firms like Friisberg & Partners International the requirement (and now expectation) that we present diverse shortlists has been a feature of our market for many many years. However, it has been a source of frustration and amazement that despite the pressure on us to find candidates from a variety of backgrounds, the client’s choice from those shortlists has, more often than one might hope, not been as ‘confident’ as at might have been. Given that searches are conducted with discretion and often confidentiality, it is sometimes assumed that the appointment of yet another executive ‘cut from the same cloth’ was because the search firm was unimaginative. This – certainly in my case – could not be further from the truth.

 

In recent months I declined to arrange any other shortlist meetings until my client had seen the female candidate first. The client was taken aback a that I had stood firm and forced the issue, as they had not wanted to meet her first, but having interviewed her, they did not bother seeing the others. That appointment has had a transformative effect on the client’s business with the attraction and retention of high-performing people (of both sexes) improving markedly – thanks to a brave (for them) but an obviously (to all) excellent appointment into a key executive position.

 

For another client I was asked, by the HR Director, to present an all-female shortlist. Having had the necessary discussion about merit and -isms and then searched far, wide and deep for candidates with the required capabilities, the CEO selected the one male candidate from that otherwise female shortlist.

 

Such experiences have convinced me that the position David Solomon has taken is the right stance to take. Far from deriding him for being what he is, and denying those like him the unfair advantages he enjoyed thanks to his chromosomes, he should be applauded for exercising the influence he has.

 

Picture: David Solomon at Davos (Source: Reuters/NYTimes)