MONDAY 12 FEB 2018 4:45 PM


The 30% Club was founded in 2010 by then-CEO of Newton Investment Management and current head of personal investing at Legal & General, Dame Helena Morrissey. Managed by social enterprise Women Ahead, its voluntary, business-led approach uses mentors to empower women to get ahead in sport and business.

Last week in Westminster, London, a day after the historic 100-year anniversary of some women being granted the right to vote, a keynote speech was delivered to the 2017/18 club intake by Morrissey. Imbued with insight and an optimism for the future of gender balance, the event highlighted Morrissey’s determination to not just achieve the 30% balance goal – but a paradigmatic change in workplace thinking.

Introduced by the CEO and founder of Women Ahead and member of the 30% Club steering committee, Liz Dimmock, the significance in the timing of the event was not without acknowledgement. Not only did 7 February signify the historic victory of some women securing the right to vote – but the entire backdrop of the event was acknowledged in the context of recent scandals surrounding men in the workplace. Notably, this included the recent allegations of assault in the film industry, and alleged conduct of attendees at last month’s Presidents Club dinner.

While optimistic about the future of the programme, Dimmock also touched on the importance of reputation in business and the need to create strong role models of both women and men. Her discussion on the importance of diversity in not just gender, but demography, age and background, acted as the perfect precursor to Dame Helena Morrissey’s keynote. “[The anniversary of the vote] represents a moment to celebrate progress,” said Dimmock. “But it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a long way to go.”

For Morrissey, the event and wider 30% Club context allowed for a discussion on the wider issues facing women in their careers. A particularly striking note for Morrissey, mother of nine children, is how women treated once a pregnancy is announced. While she concedes the maternity environment has improved, Morrissey also notes that once, ‘Women were tolerated, rather than welcomed.’ Even now, the concept of ‘flexible working’ that allows many women to have families while retaining their career is incompatible with career progression or even in-house promotion, she says. The attitude to gender balance must change; women are not less capable simply for the fact they can – or have – reproduced.

Creating a workplace environment where women are not stigmatised for their life choices thus became the prerogative for Morrissey, and many other women. Morrissey spoke of the need for workplaces to harness ‘multiple perspectives and a diversity of thought’ because when Morrissey first began her career, she recalls, ‘My competition wasn’t just men – it was all men called Paul.’ Similar to the oft-cited statistic that there are more men named John on UK FTSE boards than women, each serves to illustrate the disconnect between c-suite levels and gender balance.

Knowing your worth, then, was a key part of Morrissey’s message. Particularly striking was her adamant remark that closing the gender pay gap is not, and should never be, reliant on women to change their behaviour. Instead, it’s on employers to identify any pay issues in their organisation and make progressive steps towards changing the existing internal culture – as well as any to adapt any plans going forward. “Our focus should be on behaving as women and being valued as women,” says Morrissey. “Why should I behave the same as a man to be paid the same as a man?”

Before the 30% Club was founded in 2010, male-dominated boardrooms were generally considered the norm. Managed by the forward-thinking Women Ahead, the 30% Club aims to develop a diverse pool of talent in those organisations committed to creating a better gender balance in their employee pools. Confidence and not taking ‘no’ for an answer is the line advocated by Dame Helena Morrissey – all boardrooms and corporate committees, in the FTSE or otherwise, should take note.

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