“Five years ago we had a diverse board when you looked at it geographically and racially but we had no women," Schneider said. "At that time our new chairman Patrick O'Sullivan came in and stressed the importance of diversity. We had a few board members whose time was coming up so we knew we would have to refresh it anyway. We decided that as we brought in new members we wanted to ensure better gender diversity. We were quite deliberate, consciously looking for women candidates but the top priority was that they had the right skills for the position."
Schneider added that his team was also very clear with outside executive search firms that they were "very interested" in female candidates for its board positions. "We gave them direction. We said these are the skills we want but our priority is also diversity and therefore we want to see a lot of women. It took more effort and it took more time but we wanted to find the right female candidate. I think search firms are used to big companies giving them that direction now."
Schneider said diverse boards help companies because they bring people with "different ways of looking at issues". By taking a "deeper and wider" selection route Old Mutual has also given itself more flexibility - not being limited to the same pool of board candidates churning from one role to the other.
Old Mutual has also developed monitoring policies to track the number of women holding jobs at the firm at board level, key jobs and senior jobs.
"We track the people in the role at the time and the turnover in those jobs via internal or external hires,” Schneider explained. “We also track the gender and issue an updated report every quarter.”
He said Old Mutual was and is still not happy with female representation in its key and senior positions.
“The percentage has increased but not by enough. It is not as high as board level,” he said.
“We are using mentoring schemes and putting more female staff on leadership programmes to increase the numbers. We are also clear with our line managers. If they appoint a man to a position we ask them did you consider a woman? The first priority is getting the right skills but have you looked hard for a female candidate?”
In the next installment, we will take a look at what your company should be doing to foster an open and supportive culture to increase gender diversity…