The magic number

The 30% Club, founded last year by Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management, with a number of fellow senior executives, has just appointed Anita Frew, its first female “supporting chairman”.

Ms Frew, with a background in banking and investment, is chairman of Victrex, the British producer of polymers, and a non-executive director of Lloyds Banking Group.

The 30% Club shares its aim – to increase female participation on boards without government-imposed quotas – with many international organisations, such as Catalyst in the US. Unlike other organisations, it has quantified that aspiration: 30 per cent female board composition of the UK’s largest public companies by 2015.

The number has not been randomly chosen. A groundbreaking report by McKinsey, the consultancy, titled “Women Matter” and first published in 2007, showed that board performance really began to take off when “at least three out of 10 board members are women”.

Julie Nugent, senior director for research at Catalyst, was recently interviewed here and spoke of learning from “bright-spot organisations”. A cursory glance at the boards of the UK’s leading 100 companies throws up a number of bright spots – companies that have already achieved at least 30 per cent female composition, according to their websites. These include Burberry (37 per cent), Centrica (36 per cent), Diageo (33 per cent), Aviva (31 per cent), Alliance Trust (30 per cent), Pearson (30 per cent), British Airways (30 per cent), J Sainsbury (30 per cent) and Victrex (30 per cent). There may be more – please add them to the comments below.

Specific, quantifiable criteria win hands-down against woolly, qualitative statements, while vague aims, such as increasing female participation in senior management, don’t tend to lead to revolutions.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

For more Women at the Top news, video interviews and other features, visit


About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.