Balanced boardrooms 'becoming a reality' – City CEO Helena Morrissey

Helena Morrissey
Sarah Perrin By Sarah Perrin, CA Today

28 October 2015

Top CEO tells an ICAS audience that more balanced boardrooms are emerging but advises that there is still some way to go.

The world is in the process of “great evolutionary change that will affect us all,” according to Helena Morrissey CBE, CEO of Newton Investment Management.

Delivering the ICAS Aileen Beattie Memorial Lecture in London on Monday (26 October), Helena shared her belief that we are now seeing “the breakdown of a very long-established patriarchal paradigm of hierarchy, and command-and-control structures”.

She said: “Emerging instead is a more balanced collaboration between men and women, an appreciation of the complementary nature of masculine and feminine perspectives and a more inclusive way of seeing and acting in the world.”

In 2010, Helena founded the 30% Club, a cross-business initiative aimed at achieving 30% women on UK corporate boards. The UK club now has 160 members and the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards has risen to 26% from 12.5% five years ago. She is also a member of another select 'club', as she features in the Fortune 50 list of the World's Greatest Leaders.

David Wood, Helena Morrissey and Jim PettigrewPictured above: Helena Morrissey CBE with David Wood, ICAS Executive Director (Technical Policy) and Jim Pettigrew CA, ICAS President.

Despite progress, she told ICAS members gathered at Somerset House, that there is still some way to go to establish true balance. Among the CEOs or chairs of FTSE 350 companies, there are twice as many named John (17) than women with any name (eight).

She told the audience that her stance is not anti-male, but based on the idea that “more effective teams are gender balanced”.

She also believes that the megatrends of globalisation and technology are “accelerating the journey towards the partnership approach” between men and women.

The aptitudes needed in today’s world – a world built on networks – are those traditionally viewed as female: empathy, building trust, thinking about the group and being transparent.

Women’s skills are therefore increasingly being seen as “more valuable and enhancing the value of teams”. This, she said, was “the breakthrough moment” when “women not just can but need to be ourselves”.

Helena, who is also chair of the Investment Association, said she is excited by the shift in mindsets around the world. “This is now not seen as a simple question of getting a few more women ‘to the top’, but rather, a revolution in organisational culture, at all levels,” she said. The mission has also become less about women and more about everyone – accepting and valuing all kinds of difference.

A respected asset manager and a mother (of nine children – six girls), she is optimistic about the future. When building her own career she had to adapt to fit into the male hierarchical model, but she doesn’t expect her daughters to. Instead they should “be themselves”, she said, and we must all “embrace themes and actions that are collaborative, inclusive, accepting of differences”.

The ICAS Aileen Beattie memorial lecture is held in memory of Aileen Beattie, who was Technical Director and then Executive Director, Technical Policy, of ICAS for almost 20 years.

Download a full transcript of Helena's speech DOCX [30 KB].

Video highlights coming soon.

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  • Business

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