Dearth of women in leadership pipelines

Launched in the United Kingdom in 2010 with the goal of achieving 30 per cent women on FTSE-100 boards by the end of 2015, the 30% Club migrated to Australia earlier this year with events in Sydney and Melbourne.

The club, with a presence in seven countries, is now about to launch in Perth. Brenda Trenowden, the new lead of the 30% Club globally who is also a senior executive at ANZ in London, spoke to BlueNotes Associate Editor Amanda Gome about what's next for the 30% club and whether it can emulate or even better the UK where female board representation has risen to 25.4 per cent from 12.5 per cent since the group's foundation.

"The best companies are taking measures to staunch their leaky pipelines."
Brenda Trenowden, Lead of 30% Club globally

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Patricia Cross, Helena Morrissey and Brenda Trenowden. Pic: Supplied

Amanda Gome: Since its launch in 2010, The 30% Club has helped push the representation of women to 25.4 per cent. Can 30 per cent be achieved by year end?

Brenda Trenowden: Unfortunately it's unlikely as we would need approximately 50 more female appointments before the end of the year. However, we're not worried about hitting the exact number by December 31.

We wanted to move the needle and we have. Companies have really got the message in terms of the business case for diversity and we should hit our target by the end of next year. Chairs no longer ask why they should do it, they just want to know how to do it.

AG: So what is the next major milestone for the 30% Club? 50 per cent?

BT: Of course the long-term objective has to be gender balance that mirrors society, which would be 50 per cent. We set the original campaign target at 30 per cent as it is the tipping point and the minimum figure that's critical for change.

AG: Now that founder Helena Morrissey has passed on operational responsibilities to you, how will you take this club to the next stage?

BT: Beyond 2015, we will focus on three things: we will continue to push for 30 per cent women on boards, we will support select International Chapters (and we have requests coming in every day), but, most importantly, we will increase our focus on the pipeline initiatives. In order to have sustainable change, we need a strong pipeline of senior women who are ready for both executive and non-executive roles.

Our various pipeline initiatives go from schoolroom to boardroom and we are collaborating with a number of like-minded groups to do this. To give you an idea of where we are, our KPMG-sponsored 'Cracking the Code' research by YSC found men were still 4.5 times more likely than women to hold jobs that report directly to the board, so the UK's rank of executive women is very thin.

If you look at the countries that introduced quotas at 30 per cent and 40 per cent there are no pipelines underneath so they don't have the ability to sustain it and they just move the same people around. There is much better buy-in when the effort is business-led rather than imposed on companies.

AG: How do you set targets for that? Thirty per cent is a clear goal and easily measured because you can count the women on one hand. But corporates have many different ways to measure how many women are in their top management ranks and it is easy to show your company in a good light when there may not be that many women at the top at all.

BT: That is one of the difficulties but one way might be to get companies to report the percentage of the top 200 executives who are women, or the top earning employees and set a target for that. Or, we could look at Executive Committee but exclude enablement functions such as HR, marketing and legal as that can make it easy to get to the target. These are clearly important roles but we need to see more women in CEO roles or business head roles with P&L responsibility as they are far more likely to get to board positions.

AG: How are you going about building the pipeline?

BT: We have a number of great initiatives including 'Speakers for Schools' where we go into state secondary schools and speak to students, a very successful cross-company mentoring scheme, a growing number of graduate management and exec education scholarships for women, a women in media program, a career strategy group, an investor group and a number of other groups.

We have support not only from business but also from universities and the public sector as well. This year our cross-company mentor scheme has 44 companies and 316 mentor-mentee pairs from all of these groups. But it takes time to change a dominant culture and it has to change at lots of levels.

AG: What else do you need?

BT: You need programs like ANZ's Notable Women (an initiative to lift women's visibility in the media) to encourage the women to raise their profiles and to speak up, you need to enlighten the men in middle management about how to get the best out of both their female and male employees and to leverage their different styles and skills, and finally to ensure that the organisations recognise and put processes in place to counter unconscious bias.

Many are now tracking gender at every level and every stage of the process including ratings versus promotions and bonuses as well as the time spent in role before promotion, number of female candidates on recruitment slates, number of females in leadership programmes, etc. The critical area of analysis is to understand why women are leaving (voluntarily or otherwise) just before they reach senior management roles. The best companies are taking measures to staunch their leaky pipelines.

AG: That's a lot of things to run and check across a large organisation, where does responsibility for this usually sit?

BT: This has got to come from the top and be business-led. Chairs, CEOs and business leaders have to show their commitment to having more diverse teams and have to set internal targets. Most companies also have a Head of Diversity and Inclusion and a central budget for these initiatives. The business heads set the tone and take the lead and then work with their D&I heads to execute. The chair and the executive committee members get it; the challenge is cascading it down to middle management and truly shifting the culture.

AG: And do you think we are getting there?

BT: I'm optimistic. We've come a long way from 12.5 per cent in 2010 to 25.4 per cent today in the UK, so we have some momentum.However, we still have a lot of work to do and we've got to keep diversity on the agenda.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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