Hot on the heels of MHP’s one year anniversary came the first birthday of the 30% Club. And what a year it was for both of us. As we say goodbye (or good riddance) to 2011 the topic of women on Boards has provided a rare piece of sunshine breaking through some stormy weather.
MHP ‘inherited’ its involvement with the 30% Club through my personal role on the Steering Committee, but the successes of 2011 could not have been achieved without the support of MHP and of Engine Group in embracing it as part of our pro-bono activity. The initiative sought to increase female representation in boardrooms, achieved through attracting the support of Chairmen as well as putting pressure on investors, headhunters and the media. MHP’s role was to lead the press relations aspect of this – and what an impact we made. Working closely with the PR advisers of the Founding Chairmen and of the 30% Club founder, Helena Morrissey at BNY Mellon, we captured the imagination of the UK’s media, helped by the Davies Report and other initiatives that sought to put the spotlight on the dismal state of female representation in the UK Boardroom.
Looking back since our launch last November, the 30% Club has gone from strength to strength, attracting support from the leaders of some of the UK’s largest companies as well as recognition from the Prime Minister for our work in improving gender diversity in British boardrooms. We now have 30 supportive Chairmen – with the 30th being our very own Chairman of Engine Group, Peter Scott – who recognise the vital role of women in business and who are actively helping us to reach our stated goal of 30% female representation on UK boards by 2015 – an ambitious target, we know, but one that we are confident we will meet without resorting to quotas.
There have been many highlights over the past 12 months – Helena Morrissey’s speech on boardroom diversity at Downing Street; our inaugural “Actions Beyond Words” seminar at the Cass Business School; and the encouraging figures from the Professional Boards Forum showing an increase in female representation on FTSE 100 boards.
However, it was Lord Davies’s report in February on Women in Business that really brought the issue of boardroom diversity to the nation’s attention. We know that his recommendations aren’t going to change the make-up of boardrooms overnight, but they represent a huge step in the right direction and echo our call for change through voluntary action rather than through quotas. For the first time quoted companies will be required to set out the proportion of women they aim to have on their boards in 2013 and 2015. And perhaps more importantly, they will be required to disclose every year exactly how many women they have in senior positions and to indicate what steps they are taking to achieve better gender balance at senior levels. We were also encouraged by the Financial Reporting Council’s announcement in October that it is to amend the UK Corporate Governance Code to strengthen the principle of boardroom diversity.
While there has been encouraging progress all around, we still have a long way to go.
A recent report by Deloitte showed that 20% of companies in the FTSE 100 had no women in their boardroom and just 5% of executive positions were held by women. It concluded that at the current pace of recruitment it would take 20 years for one in three directors in the boardroom to be female. More worrying still, research by Cranfield University found that only 33 companies in the FTSE 100 have set targets for the number of women on their boards, despite calls by Lord Davies to have done so by now.
Looking back over the past 12 months, there is no doubt that we have much to celebrate. However, there is no room for complacency. As we take our early steps into 2012, we should continue to challenge companies whose boards remain too male dominated and “identikit”. Only by holding these firms to account will we see the changes we have set out to achieve.