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In February 2022, KPMG and Hanken School of Economics joined forces to research the recruitment processes of women for the listed companies’ board and executive committee positions. The premise of the research was to identify what matters contribute and on the other hand, hinder the recruitment of the underrepresented gender to the leadership positions, and what could be done to improve the gender balance. The research was commissioned as a part of the Finnish Government’s joint analysis, assessment, and research activities (VN TEAS in Finnish).

According to the research, there is no single factor that affects the career progression of women, but many interlinked matters, such as the operating environment and company traits, such as the industry, company size and the ownership play a role. Many of the latter are out of the hands of the recruiter and the applicant. However, a systematic recruitment process can improve the gender balance in the listed companies’ executive boards and committees.

The individuals can also positively contribute themselves. For example, the proactiveness of women in networking and developing their own competences are both matters that can have a positive effect on the career progression. The companies can also support the professional networking efforts that are deemed to be beneficial in the career progression of women.

While finding the best person to succeed in a role remains the main purpose of the recruitment process, the unconscious biases and the expectations the recruiter can affect the outcome. This goes for both identifying suitable candidates in the beginning of the recruitment process as well as during it. It includes defining the applicable competences, identifying the recruiting instance, and using a wide candidate pool and due diligence process to evaluate the candidates. Unconscious biases can affect all the steps, hence why it is important to recognize them and use the systematic recruitment process.

Minna Tuominen-Thuesen:

”It is a known fact that diversity, combined with inclusion, benefits the organization. It is also known that there are still too few women in the executive positions, e.g., in the listed companies. The research topic has been well analyzed in the past and there were no major surprises in our research either, but it is worth mentioning that both companies and women themselves do play a critical role in the change we aim for. First, the companies should support women in succession and career planning and pay attention to unconscious biases affecting the decision making. And second, women should be even more active in networking and letting others know about their skills and future targets. The share of women in leadership positions is increasing all the time, but the change is quite slow. Therefore, interventions that speed the process up are needed.

The upcoming European Union directive that becomes effective in 2026 will also mean inevitable changes to the gender balance. According to the directive, all major listed companies in the European Union area will need to have at least 40% of the independent board members or 33% of all executive committee positions reserved for the gender that is underrepresented in the company. According to research, having a gender quota could be a viable tool during the transition period. For instance, in Norway where the gender quotas have been in place for some time now, the results have been positive.

There is always room for more discussion and research on this topic as it will not be solved any time soon, even if the direction is right.”


Minna Tuominen-Thuesen