Retained executive search firms, represented by the worldwide Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC), discussed the importance of gender diversity at board level, the value which diversity can bring in corporate management and the role played by executive search firms to promote diversity at the AESC’s 16th Annual European Conference “Leading from the Top – Diversity and its Impact on Corporate Management” on November 13th in Berlin.

On the eve of the announcement of her new legislative proposal setting an objective of a 40% presence of the under-represented sex among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges, EU Commissioner Viviane Reding lauded the efforts deployed by executive search firms and encouraged them to do more in assisting their clients to increase the proportion of diverse candidates on their boards.

Speaking at the event, Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jorden, managing director at Catalyst Europe, and Professor Susan Vinnicombe, OBE of Cranfield School of Management, stressed that tremendous change is happening over the past few months leading to more female executives occupying leadership positions but they also emphasized that it was a persisting challenge to shift organizations and candidates’ mindsets. Enlarging the discussion to diversity in its broadest sense, Farrah Qureshi, managing director of Global Diversity Practice, explained the numerous unconscious biases which often lead to poor and conservative hiring. Executive search firms can do a better job, notably in educating clients and convincing them that they need to have solid plans in place to recruit, develop and retain.

Also taking part in panel at the event were Eileen Taylor, Global Head of Diversity at Deutsche Bank, Ines Kolmsee, Chair of SKW Stahl-Metallurgie and the only female chief executive of a publicly listed company in Germany as well as Hays Steilberg from Bertelsmann. They concurred that to have more diversity at board level, you need to look at all levels of the organization rather than just focusing on senior roles. “The mistake everybody makes is thinking it’s just the women below board level. You have to feed the pyramid and start from the beginning,” said Eileen Taylor. On discussing the issue of women reaching senior positions, Ines Kolmsee warned that women are more affected by failure: “Sometimes we [women] succeed but when we fail the burden of perceived failure is shared by every woman in the organization.”

About the Association of Executive Search Consultants
The Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) is the worldwide professional association for the retained executive search industry. The AESC promotes the highest professional standards in retained executive search consulting, broadens public understanding of the executive search process, and serves as an advocate for the interests of its member firms. For more information, or to download the AESC Code of Ethics and Professional Practice Guidelines, please visit

This article was written by Christophe de Callatay from the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

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