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All-women shortlists may be allowed for boardroom jobs

Until now efforts to get more women into top jobs have not extended to using all-women shortlists.

But the Business Secretary Vince Cable has recently signalled an intention to make them possible for recruitment to company boards.

Women currently account for one in five directorships on the boards of FTSE100 companies, up from 12.5 per cent in 2010. The Government aims to bring the figure up to 25 per cent by 2015.

Legal complexities

The problem with all-women shortlists, according to legal experts, is that they could well fall foul of equality legislation.

It's argued that men excluded from such lists may be able to make claims for sex discrimination.

The Equality Act 2010, however, does provide for proportionate 'positive action' as long as the underrepresented group is as qualified as the person or people being excluded.

This means that all candidates, men and women, may have to be assessed before a lawful shortlist can be drawn up, demonstrating that all the women are at least as qualified as their male counterparts.

But the story doesn't stop there. Audrey Williams of Eversheds pointed out that this process would make it near impossible for employers to be sure they would end up with an all-women shortlist 'any more than they could decide at the outset that they would recruit a woman to a vacant post'.

Mr Cable has asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to provide guidance so that employers might use all-women shortlists lawfully and without fear of litigation.

Acas publications and services

Acas experts can visit your organisation and 'equality audit' your recruitment procedures, to avoid discriminatory practices in recruitment. They can also raise staff awareness of discrimination legislation and its implications; for details, see Equality and diversity: how Acas can help and Recruitment and Retention: how Acas can help.

Free, impartial advice on employment relations issues is available from the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100.

Acas training is also available on Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010, which includes a practical course taking you through the legal elements of fair recruitment.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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