Helena Morrissey on Founding the 30% Club
When I became chief executive officer of Newton in 2001, I’d been there seven years. My husband had quit to stay home. I wanted to continue my career. It’s a big part of my fulfillment in life. I cared about advancing women, but I didn’t want to be marginalized as doing only that. As CEO, you want to create a culture that’s better for everybody. In 2009, I was at a lunch at Goldman Sachs. Everyone was talking about diversity, and I realized we were all stuck. There were maybe 10 or 15 percent women in the senior ranks, and the numbers were just as low on boards. After the financial crisis, there was a feeling we needed better governance. I’d seen what having women there can do. That said, I find quotas somewhat condescending. I don’t support the [European Union] plan to force a 40 percent female quota on boards. I wouldn’t want to be part of a board because I’m filling a quota.
In March 2010, I got together a small group of women and threw out the idea of the 30% Club. That day, we approached Sir Win Bischoff, the chairman of Lloyds, and Sir Roger Carr of Centrica about the idea. They immediately offered support. Others were dismissive. This was a big threat to the status quo. I went to see a guy who was chairman of a few companies. No matter what I said, he was convinced there weren’t enough women of any merit to sit on boards. I had another say he’d love more women but couldn’t convince the rest of the board.
We didn’t launch until that fall. In the initial stages, I got quite a lot of hate mail. There’s a particularly unsavory character in the U.K. who had a countercampaign. There were times when I came home and thought, “Why am I doing this?” But we made progress. When we started, women made up 12.2 percent of directors in FTSE 100 companies; now it’s 17.3 percent.
This matters to me. A lot of things have gone wrong in the last few years. I think the onus of proof should be on those who say we shouldn’t have change. I also have an important day job. My kids are between 3 and 20 now. I have three boys and six girls. I’m standing outside as I say this, waiting to pick up two of them from dance lessons. I try to do the best I can by everybody. If it doesn’t always happen, I can’t beat myself up. — As told to Diane Brady