The future for women on boards

Brenda Trenowden, women,


Brenda Trenowden is Head of Financial Institutions, Europe and Head of Banks & DF Americas at ANZ, and is the new Global Chair of the 30% Club, which is pushing for greater diversity for women in the boardroom. asked her where she saw the campaign going. What do you think of the new 33% target Lord Davies suggested for women on the boards of FTSE 350 companies for 2020?

Brenda Trenowden:
It’s very much in line with our own target of 30%. We have chosen 30% as a minimum target as research has shown that it is the tipping point in any group. We would ultimately like to see something closer to 50%, but 30% is the first critical milestone.

WM: How do you think companies can boost the number of women in the layer under the boardroom?

BT: There is no quick and easy fix as it is a complex issue and each company is different. However, we have done research on this topic and have worked with a number of companies who have had some very positive results and there are some very consistent themes emerging. First of all, it’s very important that senior management sees this is a business imperative and not something that is being imposed upon them. It must be a top 10 priority for the CEO or else it gets lost in all of the other well-intentioned initiatives. Secondly, we know that what gets measured gets managed and ultimately gets done – developing very robust metrics to identify where the problems areas are and then setting clear targets and making managers accountable for delivering on those targets is essential.

Quite often the Board and the C-suite understand the problem and are keen to address it, but this is not cascaded down to the middle management layer – those middle managers need to have targets and need to be trained to get the best out of both their women and their men and to be more gender aware. The best firms also ensure that all of their employees have access to the high profile, career-defining P&L roles, work assignments and projects – often unconscious bias results in more men getting these opportunities than the women.

Sponsorship is critical for both men and women – once again, men are much more likely to have sponsors who ‘stick their necks out’ for them and help to drive their careers. It’s important that all high potential employees have access to senior sponsors who can help to promote them in the firm and support them in moving up the ladder.

Finally, I like (to borrow Alison Maitland’s phrase), ‘Agile Working’ is something that should be available to and utilised by both men and women. ‘Flexible’ working has negative connotations and is often associated with women and with ‘part-time’ working whereas ‘Agile Working’ is much more positive and refers to working in a way that suits the individual. Companies that want to attract Millennials will need to embrace this and make it more of an ‘opt out’ than an ‘opt in’. By encouraging both men and women to work this way it removes the ‘stigma’ currently attached to it.

I’m also a big fan of returnships. I know a number of women who have used these programmes to re-enter the workforce after a long break and they have quickly acclimatised and gone on to have very successful careers. There is a huge pool of very skilled and experienced women out there who want to re-enter the workforce but they need the ‘on ramps’ to do so.

WM: What is 30% Club doing in this regard?

BT: We are very focussed on developing a strong pipeline of women in leadership roles and our new campaign has a specific target to address this – we have set an aspirational target of 30% women on FTSE 100 Executive Committees by 2020. I say ‘aspirational’ as we are currently at about 15%, so it will take a lot of work to get there. However, companies will not make progress at the ExCo level without having a strong pipeline underneath, so we believe that this target will drive the pipeline objective. We have a number of our own ‘Schoolroom to Boardroom’ initiatives to help drive the pipeline. We work with Speakers for Schools to start talking to girls in secondary schools to encourage them to set their sights high and to be resilient. We also have a large number of scholarships for women in graduate management and executive education, a cross-company mentoring scheme, a number of sector-specific initiatives and a wide-ranging group of companies involved in our research on gender-intelligent management initiatives. We have to be careful not to take on too much as we are just a campaign run by a voluntary group of people who all have day jobs. Our main objective is to have an impact by raising awareness of the issues and working with Chairmen and CEOs to help them drive the change in their own companies.

WM: Where do you think the main challenges are for the next few years and what do you feel you can personally contribute as global chair of 30% Club?

BT: I’m pleased to say that most of the senior leaders that I meet are now fully on-board with what we are trying to do – I no longer have to make the business case, they get it. However, our challenge is keeping it near the top of a business leader’s priority list in such a challenging economic environment.

My personal contribution will be my time, energy and commitment to this issue. I know first-hand how important this is in terms of creating an inclusive culture which will attract the widest possible pool of candidates and then retain, motivate and empower them to deliver sustainable results that make high-performing companies.

WM: How similar are the challenges globally and where do you see the greatest progress is being made, and can there be widespread diversity without a change in work culture?

BT: We have a number of international chapters and while many of the high level issues are the same, each country has its own unique set of challenges based on the culture, the local infrastructure, government policies, etc. I don’t know that I would hold any particular country up as a model – some have better numbers in terms of women on boards, but have no pipeline underneath while others have better policies for sharing of parental leave and subsidised childcare, but have yet to get significant numbers of women in senior management. There is a lot of work to do to tackle gender stereotypes, societal norms and corporate culture in general. I agree that we won’t have widespread diversity without a significant change in work culture, and that takes time. We need brave leaders who are willing to shake things up to create more inclusive cultures which will benefit all employees.

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