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Europe’s top companies have frequently justified their male-dominated corporate boards with the assertion that there are too few women qualified and experienced enough for the job. So in a bid to disprove this, and to support the European Union’s ongoing call for more women on boards, a group of European business schools and senior women executives have published a list of female candidates that they think are ready for board level appointments.

The list, published Wednesday, contains more than 3,500 names, including the alumnae, faculty and board members of the participating business schools. For example, London Business School has identified 330 alumnae, Cambridge Judge Business School has proposed 160 women and IMD in Switzerland has identified 348 alumnae with more than 25 years of experience plus 12 senior female faculty. Insead, which runs the largest top-ranked MBA programme in the world, graduating 1,000 MBA students a year, has identified 2,000 women. Sixty-seven of them are already board members of listed companies.

“There is a big discussion going on about where the women (to be on boards) will be found and we are just trying to answer that question” says Ludo Van Heyden, a professor in corporate governance at Insead. You can find them, he adds, if you look at the business school networks and, in most cases, consider candidates who are lot younger than the average board member.

All schools are addressing this age factor, including on their lists recent MBA graduates, typically aged under 30, as well as older alumnae. “The issue is not that younger is better but that diversity is better,” says Prof Van Heyden. “It is very useful to have senior board members… but there should also be more diversity.”

Janice Hughes, an experienced board member and founding director of Redshift, a technology consultancy, agrees with the importance of having a varied demographic on boards. “These days a mix gives you a different perspective. Shareholders need those who can ask challenging questions.”

Participating schools are also looking at ways to make corporate boards more internationally diverse. When Norway introduced quotas for women on boards, companies there had to look overseas to fill those seats.

“More and more of these (MBA students) are developing their careers internationally,” says Bridget Cosgrave, founder of Every European Digital, a broadband company and an alumnus of London Business School. As a result they can bring a global perspective to company boards, she says.

This list is the first concrete product to emanate from a number of goals set by the business schools since EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding’s Call to Action last year. Another goal is to increase the numbers of women on their own boards as well as on their faculty and programmes. According to the FT Global MBA 2012 ranking, on average the percentage of women on school boards in Europe is 24 per cent, the number of female faculty in European schools is 26 per cent and the number of female students is just 30 per cent.

Birmingham Business School in the UK has the highest female board representation in the FT rankings, with 52 per cent while HEC Paris has the lowest with 7 per cent. The award for the highest percentage of female faculty goes to Warwick Business School, with 39 per cent. Cambridge Judge has the lowest with 9 per cent. Some 45 per cent of MBA students at City University’s Cass Business School in the UK are women, but at Iese Business School in Spain and Manchester Business School in the UK the figure is just 22 per cent.

“If there is an average of 30 per cent of female MBA students, then there is no reason not to have at least that much on the school board,” says Prof Van Heyden, who’s school board currently has 22 per cent. “I believe we will get there over time.”

The schools will now be working with headhunters to encourage them to include at least one woman in all their shortlists.

“We hope that the list will encourage companies to seriously consider these talented women candidates for positions on the board. (It) shows that there are a lot of women that are eligible,” says Dianne Bevelander, associate dean of MBA programmes at Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, which has identified 150 women ready to step up to the corporate board.

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