30% Club East Africa

Our belief is that, as more women join boards without the imposition of quotas, the more they can demonstrate the value they can add.
By the time we get to 30%, the system will be self-perpetuating.

Helena Morrissey, CEO, Newton Investment Management and 30% Club founder

In November 2009, Helena Morrissey attended a lunch at Goldman Sachs as part of that firm’s Diversity Week, where men and women from various organisations discussed their experiences in trying to improve gender balance at senior levels. As the conversation unfolded, it became clear that however hard any one company tried, there was little sign of a breakthrough and only 10–15% of senior roles were being filled by women. A few months later, Helena and Mary Goudie, who had met at the Goldman lunch, decided to follow up on that discussion. Helena invited a group of around 40 senior women to gauge whether there was appetite for a concerted push on the issue. There was a range of views, but a general agreement that more could and should be done. A further discussion was arranged for 29 March 2010, for a smaller group of 10 women, in order to agree a plan.

In the run up to that meeting, Helena read extensively on the subject and realised that one thing missing up to that point was a specific numeric objective; many efforts were being made to encourage women and to develop awareness of the importance of diverse teams, but there was no measurable goal. Research suggests that 30% is the proportion when critical mass is reached – in a group setting, the voices of the minority group become heard in their own right, rather than simply representing the minority.

Helena sent an email on the Friday ahead of the lunch, floating the idea of a 30% Club; the others agreed and at the lunch in March it was decided that the 30% Club should be focused initially on corporate boards. To achieve success, the support of company Chairs should be sought, since they had the power to change the shape of their own boards.

That same afternoon, Sir Roger Carr, then Chairman of Centrica and Sir Win Bischoff, Chairman of Lloyds Bank, were approached to gauge their reaction. Both men immediately pledged their support, expressing some frustration that having recognised the positives of a more balanced board, they had found it hard to make that happen through the normal recruitment process.

On 9 November of that year, with seven founding chairmen supporters, a website, Steering Committee and a basic plan all formed, the 30% Club was officially launched. The timing was set to coincide with the Financial Times’ ‘Women at the Top’ conference held in London that year and we remain grateful to them for reporting on the launch with a cover story and further picture inside that day’s edition.

Lord Mervyn Davies subsequently published his Women on Boards review on 24 February 2011, in which he set out 10 recommendations forming a blueprint for voluntary, business-led change. The 30% Club welcomed the report alongside Lord Davies’ decision not to recommend mandatory quotas in the UK. By the time his report was published, the 30% Club had 24 Chair supporters and its neutral, non-commercial status had helped it to gain traction and to become a ‘voice’ on the issue.

On 4 July 2011, the 30% Club held its first major seminar, at Cass Business School. The Home Secretary, Rt Hon Theresa May, MP, then also Minister for Women and Equalities, spoke at the event. One of the major new points to emerge from that seminar was made by Martin Gilbert, CEO of Aberdeen Asset Management, who suggested that if institutional investors really got behind this issue, it would take only a year to see meaningful change.

Since then, the 30% Club has been very active and has contributed broadly to the debate and the building of momentum around this issue.

We held an Investor Seminar, ‘Diversity and Stewardship’ in February 2012, which attracted 150 attendees drawn mainly from the fund management community. By that point, we had created an Investor Group within the 30% Club, with eight institutional fund management companies; here are now 23 members, representing c.£6trn of assets under management.

In May 2012, the 30% Club hosted an event looking at the degree to which executive search firms have adapted their recruitment processes following their adoption of a Voluntary Code of Conduct. Cranfield School of Management presented the findings of research on the topic, commissioned by the UK’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

A reception to celebrate reaching 50 chairmen supporters of the 30% Club was generously hosted by the Rothschild Group in July 2012 and speakers included the Business Secretary, Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable MP.

During 2012, the 30% Club worked hard to demonstrate the success of a business-led approach to change, to answer the threat of a legislated quota imposed by the European Union. We submitted a number of responses to the EU Consultation on Gender Imbalance in Corporate Boards on behalf of the overall 30% Club, our Investor Group and a significant number of supporting chairmen who contributed their own submissions. Our campaign to prevent the introduction of a mandatory quota intensified and we were delighted when the EU Justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, moved away from a legislative approach in October 2012 to return a month later with a less onerous proposal.

With better gender-balanced boards in the UK clearly in the spotlight, we also turned our attention over the course of 2012 to the development of the executive pipeline. Recognising that much work is already underway in this area, rather than replicate existing ‘diversity initiatives’ we have been focusing on collaborating across organisations to explore other dimensions, such as culture and behaviours. The 30% Club’s initial formal event on the subject, ‘Transforming Business Culture’, was kindly hosted by the London Stock Exchange on 30 November 2012, where the 30% Club also opened the market. During the morning, we explored the need for more radical changes to business working practices, not just to benefit women, but to attract and retain future generations of talent from both genders.

Alongside this general exploration of the broader issues, the 30% Club was working on an intensive specific project with professional services firms, formed of lawyers, accountancies and consultancies. This sector suffers from the problem of scarce female promotion in extremis; typically these firms have a much higher proportion of female graduates at intake but very few women partners. A number of these firms had approached the 30% Club asking us to bring them together in the hope that by collaborating they might all benefit from an improved pace of change. Management consultant McKinsey kindly facilitated a pro bono project with 17 such firms and the initial output was presented at law firm Linklaters in December 2012. A series of actions is now underway following this initial project; we believe solving the pipeline problem will take a number of years but that concerted, targeted efforts can accelerate progress.

In 2013 the 30% Club focussed on three main objectives, recognising firstly that there remained much to do to reach the goal of 30% women on UK boards, especially given a noticeable slowing in the pace of female appointments; this was not surprising as the pace of change had previously been very rapid and a number of previously all-male boards had moved quickly to appoint female NEDs. Whilst the debate in the UK had undoubtedly shifted over from ‘why’ this was important to ‘how’ do companies effect change, the slow-down meant there was no place for complacency.

Secondly, we continued to focus on the pipeline of senior female talent. A group of listed companies joined forces within the 30% Club to explore new ways to accelerate the pace of change. This group continues to focus on behavioural characteristics of both men and women, and how a combination of the two can result in the most effective team, as well as helping create better means of addressing problems encountered by women in their careers.

Thirdly, we worked to help the launch and development of 30% Clubs in other countries. The issue of too few women at senior levels is global, with a few exceptions. The 30% Club’s proactive, positive and collaborative approach shows there is a better way forward than either imposing a legislated quota or doing nothing. We can offer strategic advice and help, for example, with recruitment of chairmen to local groups run within the same philosophical parameters. We have devised some basic protocols to help ensure the message is globally consistent (please see the United States and International pages for details of 30% Club launched in other territories).

The aim for 2014 was to reach 25% of women on FTSE-100 boards by year-end (the figure currently stands close at 23%), and we have intensified pipeline efforts with our focus now extended to encompass earlier stages of career and education. The cross-company mentoring scheme  that we piloted in 2013 launched officially in September and we have also set up a Career Strategy group aimed at providing practical workshops for women in the early stages of their careers. Further work around developing a public sector dimension in the UK is also under way, and this year has seen our international reach broaden thanks to 30% Club launches in the US, Ireland and Southern Africa.

2015 will see us build our focus on the younger end of the pipeline, with the launch of our Speaker for Schools collaboration and the work of our Higher Education Working Group. Our scope will also broaden as we set up two new working groups to cover Public Policy and Technology, and we will we continue our international efforts, with most imminent 30% Club launches planned for Australia, Canada and Italy.