Equalities watchdog blocks women-only board shortlists

25 July 2014 -


The Equalities and Human Rights Commission deems all-women illegal in landmark move

Jermaine Haughton

Employers who create female-only shortlists to fill positions in senior management and board rooms will have broken the law, according to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

The organisation said female-only shortlists would constitute “unlawful sex discrimination” when asked by business secretary Vince Cable about the legality of the mechanism. 

Cable hoped the policy would be helpful in getting more women onto the boards of the UK’s biggest firms, in order to meet Lord Davies’ target of 25% on FTSE 350 boards by next year.

“The headhunting industry has been looking for reassurances on the legality of all-women shortlists,” Cable said. “That’s why I welcome the EHRC’s guidance, which has clarified this issue.”

However, the EHRC acknowledges a disparity in opportunities for women to progress to the top of the career ladder. Instead of backing female-only shortlists, the Commission provided some tips businesses can use to boost gender representation on boards, as well as announcing a second inquiry into FTSE 350 board member recruitment practices chaired by Commissioner Laura Carstensen.