'Circle of discontent': New research shows high levels of frustration with board recruitment

‘Circle of discontent’: New research shows high levels of frustration with board recruitment

A lack of transparency, professionalism and support from peers are some of the major frustrations with current board recruitment processes, according to new research.

The National Board Recruitment and Appointment Processes research report, commissioned by Women on Boards, has revealed that people have largely negative experiences when seeking and being recruited for board roles.

“We appear to have a self-sustaining vicious circle where many boards haven’t figured out the hard and soft skills they need,” says Claire Braund, Executive Director of Women on Boards.

Braund says this often results in candidates producing generic applications and becoming frustrated when they are unsuccessful.

According to the report, there is also a mismatch between expectations of candidates applying for a board role, and the reality of having a board position.

“Many candidates appear to have unrealistic expectations as to how much work will be required to get onto boards,” Braund says.

“They are ill-prepared when it comes to having a high-quality cover letter, a clear idea of the value the would bring to the board and the capacity to articulate this in an interview.”

Recruiters also felt many candidates did not undertake sufficient research as part of their board application process.

Norrelle Goldring, the author of the report, says that in nearly 20 years of research, this was the most frustrated group of respondents she had come across. These attitudes boil down to a “circle of discontent” experienced by everyone involved in the process.

“Board candidates, recruiters, and organisations recruiting board members are all experiencing frustration with a suboptimal process,” Goldring said.

“Disruption in the form of more introspection, better planning by all parties and a more transparent process is required in order to align organisational needs with candidate applications and reduce the avalanche of generic applications for generic board positions.”

Another issue raised by many of the 700 respondents to the survey, is that boards and executive search firms tend to recruit from a list of “known and trusted men and women”, effectively a “closed shop” that was difficult to break into.

“It’s still very opaque – there needs to be more transparency in board appointment processes,” one respondent to the survey said.

“Also, governance skills and education don’t seem to count for very much – it’s the business acumen and networks that count more. Which is perhaps why we might be seeing some of the governance crises we are seeing in our major institutions.”

There are many things that can be done to open the “shop door” and improve recruitment processes, including engaging in more transparent headhunting, flexible thinking, and having a clear process and timeline.

The research did show that there is recognition things are changing and there is a latent desire to diversify the candidate pool, with listed boards (including those run by men) seen as more generous and open to change than other board types.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox