De Executive Search Code

The Executive Search Code (or simply the ‘Code’) acknowledges the important role that executive search agencies play in achieving more diversity in boardroom positions. Diversity is a strategic factor in sound decision-making and in the performance of companies, institutions, and governments. Agencies that sign up to this Code are therefore helping to achieve the objective of both businesses and society in general: to recruit more women into boardroom positions.

An increasing number of companies, institutions, and public authorities recognise the importance of diversity and are actively promoting the advancement of talented women and the appointment of female managing directors and advisory/supervisory directors. The number of recruitment and search agencies taking effective action on this is also growing.

Talent to the top

The Code is one of the measures adopted by the Talent to the Top Foundation and was drawn up in consultation with the first ten signatories. The Code consists of nine principles that support both the candidate and the selection and induction process. The Code is voluntary, self-regulatory, and relevant to all companies active in senior executive recruitment. Signatories of the Code enjoy several advantages and are subject to various conditions.

To speed up the flow of women into boardroom positions, the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Jet Bussemaker, and the chairman of employers’ association VNO-NCW, Hans de Boer, initiated the initiative at the end of 2014. Following up on this initiative, VNO-NCW and the Talent to the Top Foundation launched the Topvrouwen Foundation in February 2016.

We signed the Executive Search Code on 26 November 2019 at the Talent to the Top offices in Amsterdam.

Signatories to the Code commit to the following principles:

1. Succession planning

Executive search agencies (hereafter, ‘agencies’) support clients (advisory and supervisory boards, management boards, executive boards, and selection committees) in achieving gender-balanced succession planning in the medium term. These plans should accurately balance the experience and skills that need to be recruited over the coming period so as to maximize board/executive effectiveness.

2. Diversity targets

Agencies that are given a specific brief relate this to the overall composition of the supervisory, management and executive bodies. Within the context of the organization’s agreed diversity target, they proactively investigate and discuss with the client whether to prioritize the recruitment of ‘diverse’ candidates in the present case.

3. Advising

In advising their clients, agencies will work in a way that optimizes the significance of and emphasises relevant competencies and intrinsic personal qualifications. They will also ensure that candidates are selected on both masculine and feminine traits and not only on the basis of demonstrable experience in an executive position.

4. Longlist and shortlist

Agencies guarantee that a minimum percentage of the candidates on their longlists and shortlists are female, as agreed in advance with the client (preferably 50%). If it proves impossible to reach this percentage, even after demonstrable efforts, the client is given an explicit explanation of why there are not enough suitable female (or male) candidates on the list. Agencies and the Talent to the Top Foundation agree on a target for the average percentage of female candidates on longlists and shortlists throughout the year.

5. Support for the selection and pre-selection process

During the selection process, agencies help prepare candidates for interviews and guide them through the process, especially those who have been longlisted or shortlisted for the first time. In addition, agencies are encouraged to invest time in building relationships with female candidates who have executive potential.

6. Emphasis on intrinsic personal attributes

As clients assess candidates, agencies ensure that they consider a variety of professional and intrinsic personal attributes. Agencies do this by providing extensive references and by cautioning clients not to overvalue specific masculine attributes and experience.

7. Onboarding

Agencies advise clients on best practices in induction and onboarding processes, so that new candidates – even those who do not match the customary candidate profile – can quickly assume their role.

8. Embedding best practices

Agencies ensure that best practices for supporting organizations in achieving greater diversity in the boardroom are well documented and shared with Talent to the Top, and that compliance with the Code is effectively monitored.

9. Commitment and communication

Agencies express their commitment to improving diversity in the boardroom by appropriate means on their websites and in their marketing initiatives. They are also proactive in bringing the Talent to the Top Charter to the attention of their clients.

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