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The 30 Per Cent Solution

Zena Martin and Baroness Goudie on women in leadership roles.


The Strategist’s Zena Martin explores equality, diversity, and corporate social responsibility. Here, Zena talks to Baroness Goudie about the strategy of the 30% Club.

Strategist Baroness Goudie

Baroness Goudie, co-founder of The 30% Club


Labour peer Baroness Mary Goudie is co-founder of the 30% Club, a group of Chairmen voluntarily committed to bringing more women onto UK corporate boards. On average, FTSE 100 companies have only 20.4 per cent female representation on the board (up from 16.5 per cent last year). The Club is aiming for 30 per cent by 2015 – an achievable goal.

I first met the Labour peer, Baroness Goudie – Mary Goudie – on the evening after the State Opening of Parliament. With the earlier pomp and ceremony, it had already been an eventful day for her. Despite this, she radiated the impression that our meeting was her first commitment of the day, and she was still resplendent in her regal purple. I was to interview her later that night, onstage at a women’s charity event in London, so we agreed to meet beforehand to discuss what we should talk about.

Baroness Goudie is important because of what she represents for the leaders of all types of organisation today – issues that are becoming more pressing and more important to understand as time goes on. Women in leadership roles and workplace equality – two of her prime concerns – are not just ‘tentpole’ topics or items on an equality checklist; they are core to the future success of all types of venture. Women comprise 50 per cent of the world’s population, and yet they are still woefully under represented in most organisations throughout the globe, including within government.

When Baroness Goudie began her political career 40 years ago, she was the youngest woman to be elected to the London Borough of Brent Council and it has been an upward trajectory for her ever since. The Baroness has always been passionate about the importance of promoting women’s rights, especially their economic and political ones, and this aspect of her career – women helping other women – is something that she is passionate about advocating. She believes it is crucial in the drive towards greater equality of opportunity.

Goudie began promoting women’s leadership and workplace equality after working with strong female leaders in Northern Ireland, including Avila Kilmurray, Baroness May Blood, Mary Black, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, and Ellen Bennett. These women’s experiences, and her experience of working with them, highlighted for her the power that women have in helping organisations succeed and how important their involvement is in advocating for women’s rights in all types of organisation.

When not at the House of Lords, Goudie spends much of her time lending wise counsel to a number of organisations’ boards. These include, among others, the Vital Voices Global Partnership, which evolved from an idea conceived by two US Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright; the United Nations Women Leaders’ Council to Fight Human Trafficking, of which she is chair; and the 30% Club (, of which she is co-founder.

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Zena Martin, as she appears in our print Issue #1

In the UK, men easily dominate the FTSE 100. Presently, there are only four female CEOs within it: Alison Cooper of Imperial Tobacco; Liv Garfield of Severn Trent (who takes up her post this Spring); Moya Greene of Royal Mail; and Carolyn McCall of easyJet. (Angela Ahrendts was CEO of Burberry and at one point topped the FTSE 100 pay league, but she stepped down in October 2013 to become a VP of sales and retail at Apple.) Four per cent of CEOs is a tiny percentage, and yet it is the highest proportion of women leaders since the FTSE’s foundation.

While there are more women at the helm of leading companies in the US – notably in the IT sector – the situation generally is not much better than in the UK. 2013 marked the 50th Anniversary of President John F Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act in the US, and yet on average, American women earn 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns – less so for African-American and Latina women.

Part of the solution to addressing this imbalance must be to have more women in the boardroom, which is why Goudie co-founded the 30% Club in 2010 with Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management. She says: “The 30% Club is a group of UK Chairs and organisations committed to bringing more women onto company boards, because we believe it is good for the overall effectiveness of the boardroom and, therefore, good for business.”

One of the key aspects of the 30% Club is that its leaders and members believe that quotas are harmful to the gender debate. I agree: it’s a mistake to say, “she’ll do” simply because someone has breasts and is breathing. Such a woman is being set up to fail, and the organisation will feel the repercussions when she does. The organisation promotes voluntary change among companies and advocates putting the right person in the job, regardless of their gender.

The good news is that their efforts are beginning to bear fruit. A Cranfield School of Management report, published in November 2013, showed that women now account for 19 per cent of FTSE 100 and 15 per cent of FTSE 250 board positions. This is the highest level since Cranfield began monitoring the number of women in Britain’s boardrooms in 1999.

While evidence of progress is welcome, Baroness Goudie does not believe that women should go it alone on their leadership journeys. Before our onstage conversation began, she whispered to me, “Make sure you ask me whether women should have mentors or sponsors.” I said I would, but asked, “So, which is it?” “Both!” she replied. “More to be revealed.”

The Baroness believes that mentoring is vital throughout a person’s career, because, she says, people who are mentored tend to reach far greater heights. This is particularly the case with women, for whom a mentor can provide the encouragement and support to empower them at the beginning of their careers, or help them return to work after maternity leave.

One of the biggest benefits of mentoring is that it helps people to learn from their mistakes. Mentors can also help to identify skills that might be useful in a new role, as well as support their mentees in both acquiring and honing them. But women mentors seem few and far between – certainly in the business world – so I asked the Baroness why women do not seem to want to mentor other women.

Her response was that, very often, they view junior female colleagues as threats to their own success, rather than see the value that they might gain from such a relationship. As a result, many decline opportunities to be a mentor. This is the textbook definition of ‘pulling up the ladder’. Madeleine Albright said it best: “There’s a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.”

The Baroness added that sponsorship is talked about less than mentoring, but is equally important. A sponsor is someone who will put a person forward for new positions and be their advocate when they’re pursuing new opportunities. Women need to identify such a person in their professional lives, she says. Competition for jobs is tough and women should look to develop mentor and sponsor relationships that will help equip them to reach their full potential.

Baroness Goudie would like to see a work environment that is strengthened by diversity, is fair to all, and has equal pay, and she is doing her best to make those aspirations real. These are easy things to say, of course, and there are mountains to climb for women to take their rightful places in leadership roles. But with brighter spotlights being shined more consistently on the key issues, we at last seem to be moving in the right direction.

After an evening with her, I can tell you that the Baroness is an excellent mentor and sponsor herself, and an example of what women can achieve – not least by helping other women. TS


The Strategist says

All organisations should do more to promote skilled women to leadership roles.  A little-known fact: In the entire world, only Ghana (where 56 per cent of MPs are women) and Andorra (where 50 per cent of MPs are women) have a representative gender split in government. Successful women can do much more to mentor or sponsor other women for leadership roles. Women account for 20.4 per cent of FTSE 250 board positions, but that figure is steadily growing.  Mandated quotas are harmful to the gender debate, says the 30% Club. • Increasing board diversity is key to driving profitable growth. Having a better balance – at least 30 per cent senior female leaders – positively influences both a company’s culture and the decision-making process.
Zena Martin is an equalities advocate and a leading PR executive.



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