Bolstering representation of women in senior corporate roles has broad-based benefits

Six years since its founding, the 30% Club is shifting its focus to include enhanced representation of women in senior decision making roles at both large and small companies in Britain

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 December, 2016, 1:56pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 December, 2016, 10:14pm

Promoting more women to senior executive roles in large and medium-sized corporations will help redress a long-standing gender bias and help bring about a wave of positive change, according to the global head of the 30% Club.

“The chief executives and senior executives are the ones that make decisions regarding day to day management. It is important to see more women take up senior executives roles,” Brenda Trenowden, the global chair of 30% Club, said during an interview in London.

Trenowden met with the Post in the offices of the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group where she is head of financial institutions of Europe.

Efforts to broaden representation of women in the corporate world have been a goal of the 30% Club since its founding in 2010, but emphasis more recently has shifted towards the representation of women in senior decision-making roles.

The 30% Club has organised a mentorship programme for women in middle management to learn from senior executives about how to climb up the corporate ladder.

It also includes a programme to help reintegrate women who have been out of the work force for some years, for reasons ranging from the need to raise children or care for an ageing parent, she said.

To improve profits Hong Kong companies need to bolster the representation of women at the board level

The British government recently set out targets to help promote women as senior executives.

The Hampton-Alexander report, released in November, said it would like to see 33 per cent of the executive committees of the top FTSE 100 companies represented by women by 2020, compared with only 19 per cent currently.

“We also encourage those not yet focussed on improving the number of women leaders in their organisation, specifically chief executives and human resources directors, to join their peers in taking action now. In doing so, companies not only harness the different perspectives and strong skill set of women in decision making, but also address the significant underemployment of women and costly loss of their skills to British business and the economy,” the report said.

Simon Collins, UK chairman of KPMG, the accounting firm that sponsored the Hampton-Alexander report, said companies need to look into their recruitment and staff policies to help promote gender diversity.

“Companies need to look deeply inside their organisation to truly understand what is happening in the recruitment process, on retention strategies, performance and pay and promotions, if they are to improve the number of women in senior leadership positions,” Collins said in a statement in the Hampton-Alexander report. “External pressure from investors and regulators is also vital in encouraging this further.”

Trenowden said the 30% Club would also like to see smaller companies in Britain join in the effort to bring women on as directors and board members.

“We have seen a good response from the largest 100 companies in Britain in promoting women,” Trenowden said. “Now we want to extend the campaign to smaller companies. When we first started in 2010, there were only 12.5 per cent female directors, but the figure has since risen to 26 per cent.”

Trenowden said the top 100 companies all have at least one women on their corporate boards, whereas 21 had complete male domination back in 2010.

The 30% Club first launched in Britain in 2010 with the goal that the largest 100 FTSE companies should have at least 30 per cent women in senior positions. The concept became popular with other business centres, including Hong Kong, US, Canada, Australia, and some European and African countries, which adopted the 30 per cent target.

Britain currently has 27 per cent of board positions represented by women, up from 12.5 per cent in 2010. In Hong Kong the figure for female directors is 11 per cent among the 50 Hang Seng Index companies.

“This may be because Hong Kong has more family owned business. Local culture may also be a factor in affecting the pace of gender diversity,” Trenowden said.

The 30% Club, which is represented by a local chapter in Hong Kong, has set a goal for 20 per cent of director-level positions among large corporations in the city to be held by women by 2020.

In addition, Trenowden said the target is for the 12 Hang Seng Index companies that now have all male boards to have at least one female director by 2018.

In Britain, she believes the 30 per cent target will likely be reached in the next couple of years among the FTSE 100 companies. The next target is to expand the percentage of female directors among the top 350 British companies to 30 per cent by 2020, up from 23 per cent currently.

Trenowden said gender diversity makes financial sense.

According to a Korn Ferry research report, companies which have at least 10 per cent of women directors deliver 3.6 per cent higher return on equity.

Trenowden said she disagreed with the quota system in Norway, whichmandates that all listed companies have at least 40 per cent of their boards represented by women. She said the requirement has seen some companies delist in order to avoid the quota.

“We want to encourage companies to voluntarily implement gender diversity. It is just like teaching your children. We need not to tell them what to do but we need to make them want to do it themselves. It is important to establish a culture for companies to pay attention to gender diversity,” she said.

Trenowden began her financial career in the late 1980s as a broker in Hong Kong and then shifted to investment banking. Her husband is a children’s writer who works at home and takes care of their two children, a 16-year-old son and a 14-year old daughter.

“There is no norm. Each family should have their own norm to fit them the best,” she added.