Women in IR panel debates gender targets

Nov 09, 2018
Speakers agree targets matter but can undermine women

Campaigns such as that led by the 30% Club, which aims to address gender imbalances on corporate boards, must not lead to firms treating women as numbers, speakers at the IR Magazine Forum ­– Women in IR Europe said today.

The four female panelists at the London event agreed that the 30% Club – whose campaign has spread to 10 countries but in the UK aims to achieve at least 30 percent female representation on the boards of FTSE 350 and FTSE 100 firms by 2020 – remains crucial and directly benefits women in IR. But some said these goals risk being undermined if crudely executed or if corporate cultures do not change.

‘If you got a board position because you’re a woman, great. Many men get theirs because of the other men they know,’ said Jennifer Ramsey, head of IR at Rolls-Royce.

The panel also included Vision Capital’s CFO Anne Sheedy; Madeleine Szeluch, IR advisor to the UK government, and Marina Calero, director of IR at McCarthy & Stone and consultancy Powerscourt.

Calero said targets that ‘bring change from the top down’ are a good thing, though added that she supports women ‘being proactive, knowing their research and their skills, and feeling confident in themselves.’

Women currently hold around half of IRO positions, placing gender representation in the industry on a relatively even keel. Despite this, most IROs are still imagined to be male, according to Szeluch. ‘When I interact with CEOs and state officials, there is still this expectation they’ll be meeting an older man, as opposed to a younger woman,’ she said.

Past research by IR Magazine has shown that men hold more heads of IR positions than women, with the most recent numbers on this showing that women hold just 35 percent of leading IR roles. IR Magazine research has also shown that there is a gender pay gap in the industry, with new data this week highlighting how the path into IR can affect salaries by gender.

The 30% Club has garnered growing support over the past eight years since it was launched in 2010. In February this year, 27 global investors with £10.5 tn ($15 tn) of assets under management signed up to push for more women at senior management level and on the boards of UK companies in which they invest. These include Japan’s ¥156.8 tn ($1.4 tn) Government Pension Investment Fund, JPMorgan Asset Management, Standard Life and BlackRock.

Calero shared the story of a friend as a warning of how such targets can end up as a box-ticking exercise. The friend, after being internally promoted at a large bank in 2015, was later made aware the decision responded directly to criticism the bank had received for its lack of diversity. ‘I still believe the concept is good,’ Calero said. ‘It’s just about how we have the conversation and about how we push that agenda from the top.’

Views around corporate targets differed across the room, with some taking a more positive view than others. ‘There are so many changes in the UK across so many sectors that I think this is the best time to be a woman in IR,’ Szeluch concluded.

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