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Strange mathematical ideas

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The 30% Club is a group committed to bringing more women onto UK corporate boards.

And it celebrated its second birthday last week.

Its members have declared their voluntary support for the 30 per cent goal and are taking action to achieve it.

But as their website says, clearly, in big letters, this is not a call for quota.

Instead, they say, they want to achieve a better gender balance at all management levels ‘in a way that encourages real, sustainable and faster change’.

The 30% Club sees itself ‘as complementing the many other efforts underway in this area and, ‘as a neutral, non-commercial body, can help to coordinate these and deliver actions beyond words’.

Got to love it.

The idea for the 30% Club came in May 2010 when Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management, and Labour peer Mary Goudie were at a meeting about Cranfield School of Management’s Female FTSE Report, which had revealed how few women were making it into top positions.

They agreed that talking was not enough to get more women into the boardroom and that a concerted effort by the business community was required.

It should, they agreed, be ‘spearheaded by a non-commercial organisation to coordinate activities’.

Two chairmen – Sir Roger Carr of Centrica and Sir Win Bischoff of Lloyds Banking Group –declared their commitment within hours of the idea being floated, and the 30% Club was formally launched in November 2010.

For as Lord Sharman, chairman of Aviva, said: “Women on boards add a different dimension to deliberations, and critically importantly act as role models and mentors to develop the many talented women in our organisations.

“Balanced leadership is important to help organisations fulfill their aspirations.”

And the idea is championed by Angela Knight CBE, Chief Executive of the British Bankers’ Association and – according to the website – Theresa May, the Home Secretary.

At an event celebrating the Club’s second year, the business secretary Vince Cable acknowledged the slow progress of women reaching the boards of major companies in full-time roles.

New data showed there has been little progress in increasing the number of female executive directors: the figure remains static at just under 7 per cent of all executive directorships.

And two of the highest profile female FTSE directors – Marjorie Scardino, chief executive of Pearson, and Anglo American mining boss Cynthia Carroll – have recently resigned.

The UK government has ‘stepped away’ from introducing mandatory boardroom representation for women but ‘has adopted proposals by the former banker Lord Davies that 25 per cent of UK boardroom seats should be held by women by 2015’.

Stepped away. Interesting idea.

Alison Brittain is one of the most senior women in the banking industry, the head of one of the biggest bank branch networks in the UK and the largest mortgage lender in the country.

Speaking to the Guardian about her experiences recently, she said she was “ambivalent” about whether quotas for women in the boardroom should be imposed, but admits she is worried about the impact of voluntary measures to increase their number.

She fears that firms are hiring women as part-time non-executives to boost the balance in the boardroom, but failing to bring on talented women executives.

“I do think this obsession with non-executives is a problem,” she says, because it has the effect of “sucking out executives”.

“Where are the chief executives of the future going to come from when 38-to-48-year-olds are missing from the full-time workforce?”

Her worry about quotas is that women will be told they have only got the job because of their gender.

“It shouldn’t be necessary,” she says. “But there are other days when I wonder: how do we get there?

“It is absolutely true that if I have a job on my team, any man will apply if they’ve got two out the 10 attributes required.

“Women will wait until they’ve got nine.”

Meanwhile the European Union move to set a 40-per cent quota for women on the boards of listed companies was delayed “several weeks” in October.

Show your support of EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding’s proposal to put women in 40 per cent of Europe’s board seats by 2020: sign the petition.

This directive ‘is visionary and essential for building a society that engages all of its citizens in designing and building the future’.

And it will showcase Europe as ‘an example of empowered, balanced leadership, something we can be proud of and that can be emulated around the world’.

The rest of us will aim for representational balance: 51 per cent of the population, 51 per cent on the board.

At least 51 per cent.

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