Why This Boys’ Club Is Actually Great For Women

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By Samantha Samel

READ MORE: Diversity, Bloomberg, Workplace, The Estee Lauder Companies Inc., Executive, Leadership, Macy's, Inc.

We see and hear about boys’ clubs, often in relation to workplace culture, far more often than we’d like to. Across industries and age ranges, women in corporate America are largely excluded from important discussions and decisions, especially at the management and executive level.

But there’s one club dominated by men that actually serves to break down the cultures and structures that tend to favor men. The 30% Club, originally launched in the U.K. by Helen Morrissey, is made up of (mostly) men who are all about creating a more gender-balanced workforce by getting more women on boards.  

“Asking women to ‘lean in’ is only half the battle,” says Bloomberg L.P. Chair Peter. T. Grauer, who founded the U.S. chapter of the 30% Club. “Companies need to accept greater responsibility for building more diverse workplaces — and that responsibility starts at the top.”

Why is this initiative — whose long term objective is to improve women’s experiences — largely driven by men? Because the majority of the time, men are in the driver’s seat, and there’s no way that will change unless a large chunk of those men are advocating for change. In fact, Fairygodboss recently convened a summit on how to make women’s resource groups more effective — and one of the key takeaways was that it’s crucial to get the support of male and executive allies.

The 30% Club is doing just that. Its mission is “to develop a diverse pool of talent for all businesses through the efforts of its Chair and CEO members who are committed to better gender balance at all levels of their organizations. Business leadership is key to our mission, taking the issue beyond a specialist diversity effort and into mainstream talent management.”

In a recent conversation with Fairygodboss, Kiersten Barnet, Grauer’s Deputy Chief of Staff at Bloomberg, explained why Morrissey created the group in the first place. “Based on her own experiences as a woman and a mother of nine who was on the path to being a CEO, Morrissey looked around and said she’d love to see more women in senior leadership positions, at the top, boardroom level — and thought hopefully that would trickle down.”

Morrissey’s goal was to get 30% of women on FTSE-100 boards by 2020, and she wanted people on those boards to lead that effort. “I think that in the U.K., having those male leaders voluntarily leading the effort and lending their voice to drive this change helped change the conversation there, [emphasizing that this was] a talent management imperative,” Barnet said.

Grauer decided to launch the club in the U.S. after he and Barnet were speaking with Morrissey in 2014. Barnet recalled that they were discussing the fact that “everybody does seem to understand the business case for gender diversity in the boardroom and at the top — but we could use a community to get there.”

And that’s precisely what the 30% Club is: a community of senior business leaders with the same overarching goal, who regularly meet and talk to discuss their experiences, best practices, and even their failures. When the club launched in the U.S. three years ago, it had 25 founding members  — among them Warren Buffett and Sheryl Sandberg — and today, there nearly 70 leaders in the group.

Grauer and the other founding members decided sought membership from chairs and CEOs with a variety of boards — including those whose company’s board is already 30% (or more) women. Macy’s and Estee Lauder, for instance, have already achieved parity at board level, while other members have just one or two women on their boards. “Offering that network has been really helpful,” Barnet said.

In the U.S., the group has two meetings per year that are just for members, and throughout the year they facilitate other events and initiatives — including a Future Female Directors program and a mentoring program that focuses on mid-career level women. In addition to increasing the number of women on boards, club members also have the opportunity to nominate women who they think should be sitting on public company boards.

Barnet said that while she hasn’t seen much pushback on the club’s ideals, it can certainly be a challenge to get more women into the room because “some people have boards where directors have been sitting for ten or 15 years.” Moreover, she says, some club members have expressed frustration because there are no term limits for board members in the U.S., so there’s no natural mechanism worked in for turnover.

“Some boards have been hiring third parties to do an evaluation process, and that’s been helpful,” she said. “The good news is our members are thinking more broadly about what makes good corporate governance today. The challenges are greater, the need to move quickly is greater, and they want to make sure they have the right skills in their boardrooms.”

Of course, part of the 30% Club’s work involves tracking its progress — and there’s no doubt that their efforts are paying off.  When the club was established in the U.S. in 2014, members had an average of 21.7% women on their boards. Today, that number’s up to 29%.

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