The 30% Club: How women have taken on the old boys’ network
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“I would like to see the 30% Club wound up because women on boards become so commonplace that it’s simply not needed any more.”
So says Heather McGregor, a Financial Times columnist, better known as Mrs Moneypenny, who has been involved with the club since it began in 2010. Her wish may have seemed elusive when the group was set up to increase women’s representation on the boards of the UK’s largest companies. Now the goal looks achievable.
In the UK, women now make up a quarter of FTSE 100 boards, a voluntary target mandated by the then coalition government and which has been monitored by a review panel led by Lord Mervyn Davies. A new target of 33 per cent by 2020 has just been unveiled by the Davies Review, set up to report on gender diversity in boardrooms; a goal that surpasses the 30 per cent believed by the club’s founders to be the tipping point at which the representation of any minority group achieves critical mass.
The founders credit the club’s success to a number of factors. The time was right; the involvement of men, particularly chairmen of FTSE 100 companies, was critical; and the voluntary nature of the target, rather than a mandatory quota, was key.
“Having a balanced board is necessary but it is not sufficient,” says Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management and one of the 30% Club’s founders. “Below that there is still a long, hard road.”
Helena Morrissey, chief executive, Newton Investment Management
When Helena Morrissey started trying to get companies to take on board the goal of the 30% Club in 2010 she says they were “initially dismissive”. Getting male chairmen to recruit male chairmen was the breakthrough the club needed. Now, she says, boards realise that getting a better gender balance in senior ranks is “a business issue, not a women’s issue”.
Morrissey has been the most public face of the club since its foundation. She provided the initial impetus for the group six years ago — recruiting volunteers at a lunch she convened for the women she knew in business. As a mother of nine, and a successful woman in financial services, she has also been a target of the somewhat prurient — and sometimes critical — interest that the media continues to take in City “superwomen”.
Now, a lack of time has prompted her to hand over the reins of the 30% Club to Brenda Trenowden.
Morrissey believes business leaders now understand better the benefits of a diverse board and workforce.
“A lot of progress has been made, but I often still feel very isolated,” she says. “We haven’t got true inclusion until women feel they don’t have to be honorary men and gays don’t feel they have to be honorary straights.”
Brenda Trenowden, head of the Europe financial institutions group, ANZ
“I’m a huge supporter of women’s networks . . . but to actually move women up in organisations, women’s networks haven’t been making a difference,” says Brenda Trenowden, who has just taken over from Helena Morrissey as chair of the 30% Club.
She sees the achievement of the Davies target of 25 per cent of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies as merely the starting point, a useful “measurable target” that must now be built on. The club is involved in a range of projects, she says, to address the challenge of why there are so relatively few women in the “C-suite minus 1”.
As a Canadian who moved to the UK in 1991, and has also worked in Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangladesh, Trenowden is particularly supportive of the 30% Club’s increasingly global reach.
She believes there is still a powerful “old boys’ network” in the financial services industry in which she works and that there remains much to do to achieve diversity at the top. Nevertheless, she says: “I think it’s become much bigger than we had ever envisaged. We’ve ended up having far greater reach and influence.”
Heather McGregor, managing director, Taylor Bennett
Heather McGregor, the FT’s Mrs Moneypenny columnist, says the beginnings of the 30% Club were not promising. “Helena [Morrissey] doesn’t really do tears,” she says, “but if I had been Helena, I would have done tears.”
The group’s initial attempts to get FTSE 100 companies to sign up to their goal yielded a very disappointing response, sometimes even “extraordinary rudeness”, according to McGregor. It was not until two chairmen — Sir Win Bischoff, then at Lloyds Bank, and Sir Roger Carr, then at Centrica — put their names down that the momentum took off.
“We realised this was not a problem that could or should be solved by women on their own.”
McGregor’s specific area of responsibility within the club is for women between 25 and 35 years of age and she says the key challenge for them remains how to combine motherhood with a demanding career. “I say to them, career breaks are fine, but stay current and stay in touch,” she advises.
McGregor believes much has changed since the club’s early days. “I think we’ve gone from ‘Why do it?’ to ‘How to do it?’. Lord Davies on [his] own wouldn’t have changed the debate.”
Baroness Mary Goudie, Labour peer
As an inhabitant of the world of politics rather than business, unlike the rest of the 30% Club’s steering committee, Mary Goudie sees her role partly as bringing together ministers with chairmen and chief executives.
Her understanding of the “machinery” of government is helpful, she believes, in getting dialogue going between business and different ministries and being in the House of Lords, she says, “gives you more power to make change, gives you access”. She lauds its greater diversity than the House of Commons.
“There is a good mix of women and ethnic minorities and people with disabilities,” she says. “There are women in the House of Lords who wouldn’t have got selected [as a prospective parliamentary candidate].”
She believes the 30% Club, and other initiatives around increasing female representation, will lead the charge for greater overall diversity in the workforce.
“We fight all the battles,” she says. “[Women] are the change-makers, the leaders in every community.”
Like the rest of the club’s steering committee, she is strongly opposed to mandatory quotas for female representation, arguing that “you only have quotas for a period, then you are back to square one”. She believes the inclusive nature of the 30% Club has made it more effective.
Baroness Goudie would like to see “at least 40 per cent” of boards made up of women and believes headhunters have an important role to play in this. “They should automatically send a list of three [men] and three [women candidates],” but she says they prefer to search in a “golden circle” around London or even abroad rather than in the rest of the UK.
“They never look out to Glasgow, to Manchester,” she says. “There are all these great people out there — even men!”
Melanie Richards, partner and UK board member, KPMG
“Hitting a 33 per cent target on boards will be a significant step in the right direction,” says Melanie Richards. “But much more work needs to be done on the executive pipeline.”
Richards, who has worked at KPMG since 2000, believes one of the most important contributions she has made to the work of the 30% Club is to provide research to back up its work and future direction.
Last year, KPMG published Cracking the Code, a report produced in conjunction with a business psychologist company and the 30% Club, on “gender intelligent” approaches to developing corporate leaders. The report dispelled some of the myths around workplace diversity but also made practical suggestions about how companies could improve their talent pipeline — one of the key ways to develop “board-ready” candidates. “Where we can create more transparency, then you can be clear on what needs to be done,” she says. “You can’t promote unseen or unidentified talent.”
Like many of the women involved in the club, Richards pays tribute to the support of her employer, whose chairmen was one of the original seven to sign up to it. She believes the club’s refusal to back mandatory quotas for female board representation, as well as the involvement of men right from the beginning, has been key to its success. Internationally, she says, even countries that have imposed quotas are still interested in setting up 30% Clubs.
Richards is helping to lead the charge within the club to get more women on the boards of FTSE 250 companies, which still lag behind their bigger counterparts in the FTSE 100. The challenges for that group, where boards are often smaller, are different, she says. But what is crucial at any company is how “mindful” its leadership is about the issue. “You need a tailored approach for different audiences,” she says.
Gay Collins, founding partner, Montfort
Gay Collins has worked for more than 25 years in public relations and became involved in the 30% Club because Newton Investment Management, for which Helena Morrissey works, was a client of hers. Since its inception, she and Jamie Brookes, of MHP Communications, have led the club’s PR work and believe the media have been “absolutely vital” in getting its message across and that some of the most supportive journalists, such as Andrew Hill, the FT’s management editor, have been men.
“Female journalists have tended to be either massively supportive or very sceptical . . . whereas male journalists get it,” she says.
Like all the 30% Club members, she gives up her time voluntarily and spends as much as a day a week on it. She believes that, although “the numbers have moved in the right direction”, there is a danger of complacency now that the first Davies target has been met.
“The easier fixes have been boardroom representation,” she says. “A lot of the progress has been made in people recognising that companies have to change, but the pace of change has been slower than I would have wanted.
“If you want to be seen as a leader who is forward-thinking, enlightened, you’ve got to have a diverse board, you’ve got to have a diverse executive committee and you’ve got to give out that message that the company has the right culture for future employees.”
30% club: the next chapter
On the same day the women — and two men — of the 30% Club gathered for our photoshoot, Lord Davies released the latest chapter in his ongoing review into the representation of women on boards, writes Hugo Greenhalgh.
The club had been founded in 2010 with the express purpose of increasing the number of women in C-suite positions; Lord Davies’ final report was keenly anticipated. After five years of work, and lobbying by the 30% Club, his findings were positive: women filling FTSE 100 board positions passed the 25 per cent “milestone” earlier this year. A new target of 33 per cent female representation has been set for 2020.
The numbers stand testament to the work undertaken by the 30% Club — at every level. Not only lobbying ministers and the City for change, but also acting as role models for the emerging female leaders of the future.
Eventually, as Sarah Gordon notes in her story, its members hope there will be no need for the club. “I’d like to see the 30% Club redundant and wound up,” says Heather McGregor, managing director of Taylor Bennett, “because women on boards become so commonplace that it’s simply not needed any more.”
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