I was unable to attend the summer party celebration of the 30% Club this week. Apart from feeling uncharacteristically grumpy that I couldn’t physically manage it, I was also very disappointed. The 30% Club was set up by the extraordinary Helena Morrissey, Head of Newton Asset Management in order to encourage FTSE 100 Chairmen to commit to establishing a Board that is at least 30% women.
I do not know Helena well but I think she has taken a very smart route to bringing the cultural change we desperately need at the top of many organisations and particularly in the commercial sector. By charming Chairmen into action and celebrating successes, I am sure she has got further than berating them for the lack of progress. I think that 50 chairmen are now signed up and so change is happening.
I would like to have been there to show support but I would also have liked to have been there to throw my slightly different perspective into the debate. I think we need a massive shock to the system so I am 100% in favour of quotas for the FTSE 100 companies. I know this is deeply unpopular with many, but I think it is the only way to create scale change fast. I reject the assumption that with quotas comes sub standard women – that is patronising and sexist.
There are hundreds of great women out there – Headhunters and Chairs just need to work harder to find them. We need to look in the charitable sector, in start-ups and in big public sector organisations – crucially in the UK but also internationally. FTSE 100 companies would be transformed with the addition of 200 new women as Executive or Non- Executive Directors. It’s a small number – we are not looking for 2000 or 20000. I am convinced there are the women out there but we must root them out and break up the old networks that currently find them.
As I suggested, if every woman at the 30% club event brought another woman to the event that had potential to become a Director then you have already created a powerful funnel of talent. I am lucky to be on the Board of M&S with a great Chairman and good gender balance. I am also lucky to Chair Go On UK, the charity established to build the UK’s digital capability and I am delighted that 5 of the 11 board members are women. You can read about it here .
Now, surely, as public confidence in the established institutions is being blown apart, it is essential we deliver better equality at the top.