As the number of female board members reaches nearly one in three, Helena Morrissey, head of personal investing at Legal & General, says this has been achieved because men have been involved.
Speaking at the Cliveden Literary Festival on Saturday, Dame Morrissey, who set up the 30% Club in 2010 to achieve this target, says: “The 30% Club has succeeded in achieving its somewhat narrow objective of more women on boards because it’s very much involved men.
“Men have seen the need for change, and not always because they have daughters, but because we can make the boardroom or the management team or the company just better, and we [women] can bring other things to the table.”
However, Dame Helena, who was on a panel discussion which included Cherie Blair and Priti Patel MP, says that women should not have to adopt a macho approach to succeed.
She says: “One thing I would love to see and I don’t think has happened yet in business or politics, is women having enough confidence to lead like a woman. That may sound a bit trite… I think we’ve tended to, certainly when I started, to lean into very masculine approaches. We had to be very confrontational. We had to be almost more macho than the men. I think that’s completely unnecessary and we could contribute so much more to how things are resolved now if we have the confidence to be ourselves.
“I think there is a genuine realisation that boards would be better if you had more women but not more women pretending to be men, but women bringing their own ideas to the table, their own ways of working, collaborating, being compassionate, being more empathetic. We’re badly missing that, particularly from politics.”
The mother-of-nine talks of the “often the very subtle differences between men and women who are coming up in their careers” where the woman falls behind. But she points out that is not necessarily because they have had children but more due to a lack of confidence: “They perhaps haven’t put themselves forward and they get passed over for promotion and are not given the pay rise,” she says.
“It doesn’t take a huge amount to sit down with that person but someone has to look out for them. And hopefully by the time we’ve affected change, then instead of needing to ask for a pay rise we’ll have companies that recognise better people and will pay them more,” she adds.
Dame Helena believes that change will lie younger men, in particular, coming forward to promote gender equality.
Looking back at founding the 30% Club, she pointed out that when she started her career 20 years ago, the number of women on board wasn’t measured, and that it has gone up from 12% of women on boards when the club was set up, so has almost trebled in eight years.
She recalls: “After the financial crisis, it became unequivocal in a deafening wake-up call that actually having one type of person running things, particularly on boards, could not be the right answer. So suddenly there was this moment to seize and the 30% Club it was all about women and men working together, and I’m so keen to retain that through our next phase.”
Talking of the need for more flexibility in the workplace when it comes to men looking after children or elderly parents, she adds: “We shouldn’t just be superwomen we should be encouraging men to be supermen too.”