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Helena Morrissey CBE: How can we reach 30% women on boards by 2015?

by LLB Editor
20th Nov 13 12:00 am

As Liv Garfield’s appointment at Severn Trent boosts female chief execs on FTSE100

Helena Morrissey CBE is CEO of Newton Investment Management, and founder of The 30% Club.

The recent slowdown in the rate of female FTSE 100 director appointments has caused some consternation among those working to achieve better gender-balanced boards. Of course, I’m disappointed that the pace of change in FTSE 100 directorships going to women has slowed, from last year’s exciting rate of one in two, to just one in four appointments this year. However, I’m confident that we can regain momentum and achieve or be close to the 30% objective by the end of 2015.

Since the 30% Club launched in November 2010, I’ve seen a huge shift in the way this topic is treated – not just because of the spotlight on the gender issue, but due to the focus on improving corporate governance generally. When I first wrote to company chairmen asking if they would consider supporting the 30% Club, a typical response was: “Why?” As recently as 2010, many considered this to be a “women’s issue”, rather than a business issue. A few enlightened chairmen were strongly supportive right from the start (we launched with seven founding chairmen) and told me they had witnessed the positive impact that women had made to their board, but that wasn’t the norm.

Just three years later, there are 70 chairmen supporters of the 30% Club, and the question most often asked now is: “How do we get there?” There’s a frustration expressed that it’s proving hard to find top-quality diverse candidates – not just women, but other candidates beyond the “white, male and pale” traditional group.

The 30% Club’s campaign has evolved to meet these new challenges. We are currently working on three sets of initiatives to reaccelerate the pace of change.

Firstly, we’re embarking on efforts to help the executive search community source more diverse candidates for board-level roles. Search firms often call me looking for ideas on good female candidates for specific roles. The 30% Club is going to bring senior existing female directors together with the search community to see if we can provide more systematic help. The head-hunters do feel the pressure to deliver more female candidates. I’d like them to feel this isn’t an uphill struggle, but a valued effort towards worthwhile change. We’ll also showcase the best examples of head-hunters reaching beyond the tried-and-tested candidates – this is such an important ingredient for making further progress.

Secondly, we will up the ante from the shareholder community. There are 18 members of the 30% Club’s investor group, with well over £2 trillion of assets under management between us. We’ve been emphasising constructive engagement with companies on the topic of more diverse boards and leadership teams but this softly-softly approach has had limited impact. Several of the member firms of the investor group are now ready to step up the pressure by making it clear they’ll abstain or vote against the election of the chair of the nominations committee (or the board chairman) if there’s not more action to achieve better balance. We see this as a key part of developing modern sustainable businesses of the future and therefore ones that deliver good returns for shareholders.


The 30% Club is a group of chairmen voluntarily committed to bringing more women onto UK corporate boards. To achieve this, we can harness the expertise of the executive search community –
working alongside female directors – and the influence of shareholders. Designing gender-intelligent skills training can further develop female talent.

The third strand of our efforts is already well underway. We will continue to work hard to develop a larger pool of senior female talent, both to achieve more women executive directors and as a future source of non-executive candidates. This is obviously a longer-term issue – the technical skills needed to develop into a chief financial officer, for example, take at least a decade to hone – but we are pushing on a door that is wide open here, with

We no longer need to make the case about the business benefits, but we do need practical solutions. So for example, the 30% Club is currently working with a group of companies to research the behavioural differences between men and women and then to create gender-intelligent skills-development programmes. Men and women are different, and those differences create the value in gender-balanced teams, including boards. But to date, most companies’ efforts to train and develop women are based on what works for men.

It was perhaps inevitable that after last year’s surge in female director appointments, we’d see a pause. Many companies rushed to put at least one woman on their boards – 95% of FTSE 100 boards now have at least one female director. That’s a good step, but not the end of the journey towards more relevant, dynamic boardrooms with a broad range of directors who can complement each other and challenge from different perspectives.

So much progress has already been made.

Let’s join forces to make another concerted push towards 30%.

Helena Morrissey CBE is CEO of Newton Investment Management, and founder of The 30% Club.

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