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.

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