Five years ago, Helena Morrissey set herself a seemingly impossible challenge: persuade the chairmen and CEOs of Europe’s largest corporations that their boards should be at least 30% female. Today, she’s tantalizingly close to achieving her goal—and is expanding her efforts to reach companies around the world.
Early in her tenure as CEO of Newton, a U.K.–based investment management firm, Morrissey started an initiative to increase women’s representation in the higher ranks of the company, which at the time was less than 15% female. Five years later, with no results to speak of, she was almost ready to give up.
Morrissey studied up and found that 30% tends to be the threshold where a minority voice becomes more than just a token part of a group. She shared her findings with 15 fellow female executives, and together they hashed out what would become the 30% Club. “We decided it would be focused to start with,” Morrissey says. Their goal: to make the boards of all companies on the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 index at least 30% female by the end of 2015.
The 30% Club frames its mission as a business imperative: Diverse boards are more innovative. Morrissey won the support of a core group of what she calls “enlightened” chairmen and CEOs (many of whom had daughters) and the message spread from there. “Their evangelism about this issue has really transformed the thinking,” Morrissey says.
There are no all-male boards left on the FTSE 100, and 23 companies have already reached the 30% mark. 30% Club chapters have been formed in the U.S., Hong Kong, Ireland, and East Africa, with launches in Italy, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, and the Persian Gulf planned for later this year. The progress vindicates Morrissey’s philosophy: “Fighting against the established position doesn’t get you as far as changing it,” she says.