Gender diversity in the spotlight

The 30% Club was founded in 2010 to increase the representation of women on the boards of the UK’s largest companies.

Since then, it has spread to chapters around the world and broadened its focus to include developing the pipeline for senior women. Four of the women behind the campaign, and other diversity initiatives, talk to Professional Investor Magazine about why the spotlight still needs to be shined on gender diversity.

PI: Why, in 2017, do we still find ourselves having to talk about gender diversity and representation of women in senior roles?

Gay Collins: Addressing this issue head on is a critical aspect of making companies fit for the future. Whilst there’s been progress over the last five years, much has been achieved through non-executive directors joining hitherto male-only boards. This has to flow down into more senior executive roles for women, because achieving that changes the feel of a company dramatically. It also reverses the waste of productivity and investment that occurs if women leave the workplace and don’t return. Quite why it’s taken so long for companies to wake up to the fact that progressive companies are ones that embrace and encourage diversity baffles me, but I do feel that finally it’s no longer about why, but how.

PI: What are some of the benefits of having diversity within organisations? We’ve seen reports that suggest that having diversity of gender within an organisation improves performance. Where does that performance come from? Does it come from diversity in thinking, or approach?

Julia Dawson: What you see at the board level of all sorts of companies is that they are homogenous. They suffer from ‘group think’, and having someone who is different, whether it is ethnically, or because of gender or sexuality, breaks that group think. Each group has a different priority. Women for example tend to be much more focused on managing risk, rather than optimising returns. They are much more mindful of the downside, and they approach strategy in a very different way. None of us are perfect, and we often miss something. When you are managing big companies, it is absolutely critical to have a diverse group around you. It may take longer to make decisions but you make more informed decisions.

Emily Lawson: There have been multiple reports that have shown similar results over the last ten years, since the first Women Matter report came out in 2007. We know that if you look at a big enough sample size, that in terms of financial performance, there is a return on diversity. We’ve found that when a company has three or more women on the top team – not just one – it made the most difference. When it’s just one person, it’s hard to be heard by the prevailing majority.

PI: So how do we get more senior women in the pipeline? Is it about succession planning?

Pavita Cooper: As you’d expect, it’s about a bit of everything. Many organisations say they have cracked it and have good succession plans in place. But appointments often do not reflect the reality of who is on those on the succession plans. Organisations invest heavily in building sophisticated talent processes however if senior leadership doesn’t engage in those processes, then that can trip organisations up. What is the diversity mix of the succession pool? Regarding the women on the succession plan are they being given sufficient stretch experiences to get them “role-ready”? There’s also the case sometimes that there’s no women left to choose from, because they’ve all left. The 30% Club did some research three years ago entitled Cracking the Code, and one of the themes emerging that had the biggest impact on whether a woman stayed – was her relationship with her line manager, and whether management engaged with the challenges, whether its childcare or something else. Many women don’t want to be seen to be working part-time, and say it’s a kiss of death if they are in a part-time HR process. They would prefer to have a really informal system in place, but to do it in a way that allows them to meet their short-term obligations. They are more likely to stay in the workforce if they have a boss that engages with them around their career development.

Gay Collins: It is clearly important for the initiative to come from the top, and whilst focus has to be on the Board, chief executives and the executive team need to take a look at all levels within their companies. Do they have the kind of company where women want to remain? But it’s not just about women. It is also about a changing culture. Millennials for example, want a different way of working, and won’t prioritise companies which don’t have the right working culture. There have to be some really tough decisions and discussions amongst the executive management teams to work out what needs to change. They have to address the way they look at promotion and also recruitment. It’s important to think about how you evaluate candidates, review how advertisements are worded, and set up your interview process in a way that will either attract or appeal to enough women.

PI: So how do you change the working culture?

Emily Lawson: When you want to change a culture, one of the first things you need to recognise is that it is going to take time, and it’s going to be quite painful. You need to be committed upfront that it’s the right thing to do, and there’s a good business rationale for it. That means everyone should have a business case, but also a personal case. Why does it matter to you personally that culture changes? Some things you need to embed are going to take a long time to be successful. You need a mix of the things that are worthwhile over the long term, and things that you can do quite quickly that will have an immediate effect. Finding small things you can do to keep the conversation going are very important. When we compiled the Women Matter Report in 2012, we tried to look at specific initiatives which pay off to develop culture. We learn that 100% of chief executives said they were committed to culture, but only 50% of middle management thought the chief executives were. So everyone plays lip service. It’s critical to get to those middle managers, to start the system and make sure you are take the bias out of systems.

Pavita Cooper: In order for culture to be truly embedded, every single person has to be accountable. A good example of this is organisations that push back on professional services firms that field all male teams for pitches. It’s about helping leaders understand what their responsibilities are, particularly at middle management level where we see the most resistance. Unless people connect with the business case on an emotional level, they don’t get it because it seems like it is something that doesn’t matter – there is no desire to change the status quo.

Please read the second part of the interview here.


Gay CollinsGay Collins. With 26 years’ experience of advising many of the most progressive companies in the financial services space, Gay Collin’s specialty is in working with large and small asset managers, unlisted or listed, and helping them to grow and navigate change. With a track record of setting up and running PR businesses, prior to setting up Montfort Communications, Collins co-founded Ludgate, then Penrose Financial. She is also a founding steering committee member of the 30% Club, a board member of CRUK’s “Women of Influence” and a non-executive director of the JP Morgan Global Growth & Income Investment Trust.

Pavita CooperPavita Cooper is founder and director of More Difference, a talent and career insight business that works with organisations and individuals to accelerate talent. She is a diversity expert, with over 25 years’ experience across a range of multi-sector global blue-chip organisations. She has acted as an advisor to chief executives, executive teams and business leaders. Cooper is a passionate advocate of greater diversity in senior leadership roles, and committed to accelerating the progression of “hidden” talent: women, ethnic minorities and leaders from less traditional backgrounds. She is a steering committee member of the 30% Club, and sits on the advisory board of Business 3.0, as well as chairing the CMI BAME Research Advisory Board. She also serves as a trustee of Kids Out.

Julia DawsonJulia Dawson was until recently a managing director at Credit Suisse in the global markets division. She was responsible for equity research covering ESG issues, and for thematic research. She was the also lead author on the CS Gender 3000 diversity research series, which measured the correlation between gender diversity and corporate performance. Previously, Dawson was head of international equity sales at Alfa Bank; she also worked at Deutsche Bank, where she was a managing director and head of emerging European equity sales. She began her career at Barings Securities in equity research, serving as head of Russian research. She received her BSc degree in economics and Russian studies from the London School of Economics and her MBA from INSEAD.

Emily LawsonEmily Lawson is the deputy chair of the 30% Club. She was previously the chief people officer at Kingfisher, the group human resources director at Wm Morrison Supermarkets and a partner at McKinsey & Co where she held various roles including leading the human capital practice. Her work on diversity started with the Women Matter Report while at McKinsey, continued into the Women in Professional Service Firms work with the 30% Club, and has continued into her practices as an HR director. Lawson holds degrees from the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and a PhD from the John Innes Institute.

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