Representation of women on boards

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

Four of the women behind the campaign, and other diversity initiatives, continue talking to Professional Investor magazine about why the spotlight still needs to be shined on gender diversity. Please read the first part of the interview here.

PI: What about shareholder pressure?

Gay Collins: I think there has been significant and increased pressure over the last four years since the 30% Club group was formed, but the pressure can be more obvious with certain companies and less direct on others. The 30% Club’s goal is to help create more consistent and joined up engagement with companies. We had a roundtable seminar at the London Stock Exchange in November last year, and I think the goal of what needs to be achieved on Boards is very clear, but how to achieve it differs from company to company, and also between the asset managers and the pension schemes. So I would say Boards feel the pressure, whether it is from the media or from the 30% Club or from other initiatives like the Hampton Alexander Report. Some feel it from investors and from analysts. But this is all still a work in progress.

PI: Do we need to push for gender equality across all sectors? Should we accept greater diversity will tend to concentrate in shared services in some sectors?

Julia Dawson: It’s the old argument that you don’t get women in mining and in industrials, and we’re continuing to see that divide in the data we have in 2016. But it seems to us that many of the skills required in those types of industries are very transferable. All companies need many different types of skills. They need to have their eyes open to attracting female talent in those shared services. You’re not going to get 25% women in a mining company, but you certainly can get some.

Pavita Cooper: I agree. At the 30% Club we really enforce Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in education. Many of us are involved with Speakers for Schools; we engage with young women on the importance of continuing to stay engaged with STEM subjects. We hope that by supporting women in science, we may not get there in one or two years, but we may in ten or fifteen years, and we’ll see a positive output from there.

Emily Lawson: I think the industries which have the lowest representation of women are often the ones who are doing the most about it. My advice to individual companies is to understand your particular problem. For some industries, like mining, it’s that there aren’t enough women graduating. Ten years ago the oil industry didn’t have a gender problem, they had a skills problem, and so this forced them to become really creative and work with universities and sponsor people. I think it’s about identifying your particular problem, and making a commitment to work on it. Nobody finds this easy or quick. You can make small changes that have an impact, but in some places you are really going to have to slog away over ten years to get to where you need to be.

PI: So what do you all think about the future? Are you optimistic that women will be well represented in senior roles?

Pavita Cooper: I do feel optimistic, yes. I no longer get asked about the business case, and why it’s important for women to be in senior roles. If I had a dream for the future, it would be that this becomes about broader issues. I do see a lot of issues around race, for example. I think businesses need to be more open and curious, and then we’d have better culture.

Emily Lawson: I’m also optimistic, but in order to solve these multi-complex issues, we have got to be able to see the shades of grey. We have to find ways to have opposing points of view in any discussion. We’ve seen this in Brexit and the US election. You’re not all right, and you’re not all wrong. We all need to work to understand our own biases, so that we can hear other biases.

Julia Dawson: I would echo that. It’s about moving away from just diversity of the issues, to diversity in self. It throws up a lot of issues about how you create optimal teams. I’m slightly more reserved at the moment, because we’ve had some momentum behind this argument, and I’m slightly feeling that this has stalled. Getting diversity in senior management is critical for diversity to foster down an organisation. When you get diversity in both the boardrooms and the management teams, you see much less volatile returns, and having diversity in both layers is a critical component.

Gay Collins: From my perspective, I’ve been really encouraged by the progress we’ve seen, but there’s just so much more we need to achieve. We’ve got to keep the pressure up. The good thing about targets is that you have them, but the bad thing is that once we’ve achieved the target in one area, people think it’s time to go off and focus on something else. What is important is not just what the FTSE 100 looks like; it’s what corporates globally look like. It’s not just about Boards, it’s about the pipeline. There is so much change that is yet to come.


Gay Collins has 26 years of experience of advising many of the most progressive companies in the financial services space, 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 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 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 Dawson was until recently a managing director at Credit Suisse in the global markets division. She was the also lead author on the CS Gender 3000 diversity research series, which measured the correlation between gender diversity and corporate performance. She received her BSc degree in economics and Russian studies from the London School of Economics and her MBA from INSEAD.

Emily Lawson is the deputy chair of the 30% Club. 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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