Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, has unveiled a new corporate code of conduct for executive recruiters designed to promote greater diversity at boardroom level of some of the country’s biggest firms.

The initiative is aimed at FTSE 350 companies and Cable stated, “Executive Search firms are crucial to achieving gender diversity in both executive and non-executive roles”. The implementation of this enhanced code, building on a 2011 accreditation scheme, should accelerate changes that are seeing more women in high-profile business roles than ever before. Such a development shows that the recruitment industry is making tangible efforts to promote gender diversity.

Market-leading firms are also making it clear that they are taking the initiative to address this problem. As we discussed in an earlier blog, Google is confronting issues surrounding the diversity of its workforce. Using data on demographics, they are developing strategies to combat the problems surrounding access to talent from specific demographics, such as women and minority groups.

Not all businesses have the resources available to Google. Where companies lack in-house expertise in workforce planning and sourcing strategy, recruitment process outsourcers (RPOs) may be useful for those who want to target underrepresented groups. Strategic recruitment partners (SRPs) can go beyond this, offering value-added services such as brand guardianship to ensure that the values of the company are successfully communicated to potential and current employees.

Strategies to increase workforce diversity and voluntary codes for industry are not the only ways this issue can be put on the agenda. Potentially more serious is the problem of regulatory risk. Changes to legislation can pose problems for businesses and HR practitioners because the penalties for infractions can be high.

A further issue for recruiters is legislation. The updated code announced by Vince Cable is an accreditation scheme rather than an act of parliament, so it should be approached in a different way to changes in legislation. However, such changes are on the horizon for UK businesses. From October 2014, equal pay legislation will allow tribunals to compel businesses to conduct equal pay audits. RPOs can help businesses mitigate risk around legislation – specialists with expert knowledge of key regulatory directives, such as Agency Workers Regulation or the Working Time Directive, can be invaluable.

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