More Women in Boardrooms? Campaigner Says Progress Being Made

Does being a mother of nine, overseeing investments of over 47 billion pounds, and advocating to get more women in boardrooms at the same time sound implausible?

Not for Helena Morrissey, who’s daily routine consists of overseeing the logistics of a large family, being the chief executive of asset management firm BNY Mellon-owned Newton Investment Management, and managing the 30 Percent Club, which aims to have women sitting on the boards of 30 percent of all FTSE-listed companies by 2015.

Morrissey says the push for greater female representation on boardsis having some success.

“Almost half of all new appointments are going to women, which, in the current economic context, is about as much as we can head for at this stage,” Morrissey told CNBC. “We’ve almost had no change in four years up to the end of 2010, with women holding 12 percent of FTSE 100 board positions. This number now stands at nearly 17 percent.”

Morrissey says the issue isn’t about gender but about diverse viewpoints at the top, which would help improve oversight. “It’s about getting a more effective business, and more effective corporate governance,” she said, referring to the stream of scandals in the financial sector in recent years.

“We have to break the lid on the cosy club of the one type of person that has been running boards,” she said.

Rather surprisingly, the 30 percent club’s membership is made up largely of men who are the chairmen of some of Britain’s largest companies. Fifty-four of them have signed up for the project voluntarily.

“It’s not mandatory, it’s not a quota, it’s about them believing in more women in boardrooms because they’ve seen the evidence of more balanced boardrooms on the dynamic,” she said.

Morrissey was named last year as the Most Influential Woman in European Asset Management, but she is of two minds about it. “Why do we need a category?” she said, and recounted, how following the nomination, her seven-year old son asked: “Is there a most influential man as well?”

A recent report by Credit Suissealso suggested that companies feeling the pain of the economic downturn might need a woman's touch. More than 2,500 companies were analysed and it was found that companies with more than one woman on the board have outperformed those with no women on the board by 26 percent since 2005.

Liza Jansen, special contributor for Twitter: @lizajansen