The drive to put more women at the top
The 30% Club launched in the UK in 2010 and is a group of business leaders who believe gender balance on boards encourages improved leadership and governance and contributes to better all-round performance.
When the 30% Club began, its goal was to achieve a minimum of 30 per cent women on FTSE 100 boards and this ambition has almost been realised. Now, the aim is to achieve a minimum of 30 per cent women on FTSE 350 boards, as well as 30 per cent women on executive committees of FTSE 100 companies by 2020. The 30% Club’s ethos is to bring about meaningful and sustainable change through collaborative, concerted business-led efforts.
As Avril Martindale, one of our partners leading on gender diversity and a member of the UK Steering Committee of the 30% Club, says, ‘Our involvement with the 30% Club globally is an incredibly important part of our gender diversity strategy; the collaborations it enables between ourselves and both our clients and others within the professional services sector is resulting in tangible change, not just within Freshfields but beyond, and demonstrates what we think responsible business means in action.’
‘Our involvement with the 30% Club is an incredibly important part of our gender diversity strategy.’
The firm’s relationship with the 30% Club began in 2012 when the Professional Services Firms Initiative was launched and we became a founding member. Along with other law, accounting and consulting firms, we participated in research into gender balance at senior levels in the sector entitled ‘Shifting the Needle’. The results of this research led to further consideration of three areas: sponsorship, work allocation and agile working. Freshfields co-led the agile working group and the findings of all three groups were presented at a Leadership Forum for partners of participating firms in November 2014. A defining feature of the Initiative is a focus on how its findings can be turned into practical actions to further support the member firms’ efforts on gender diversity. This has certainly been the case for Freshfields with our involvement stimulating debate within the firm and resulting in the creation of new programmes to continue our aim of achieving greater gender diversity within the partnership.
Freshfields has been involved in the 30% Club Cross-Company Mentoring Scheme in the UK since its pilot in 2013. The Scheme offers cross-company, cross-sector mentoring to mid-career women. Since the official launch the Scheme has continued to go from strength to strength and 20 of our women have been mentored by leaders from other organisations, with 20 Freshfields partners, both male and female, mentoring women from outside the firm. The Scheme complements well the firm’s internal mentoring programmes as it provides our women lawyers with a different perspective on the career challenges they face in a neutral and confidential environment. For our partner mentors, the experience of women at other organisations has helped inform their views on improving gender diversity within the firm.
As the 30% Club’s approach has spread globally, Freshfields has maintained a close relationship and continued to support its efforts.
‘We are very pleased with the ongoing engagement and support that we have had from Freshfields, particularly on the Professional Services Firms initiative.’
Global Chair, 30% Club
In March 2013 the 30% Club launched in Hong Kong, and Teresa Ko, Partner and China Chairman at Freshfields, is a founding member, forming part of the steering committee. She is also engaged in the Regulatory Engagement working group, which focuses on informal engagement and discussion with Hong Kong’s various regulatory bodies, including HKEx and its Listing Committee as well as the Securities and Futures Commission, to explore the best ways to increase the proportion of women on boards in Hong Kong.
The US chapter of the 30% Club launched in 2014 and Adam Siegel, US Regional Managing Partner, is a founding member. Freshfields is also a member of the local steering committee and our activities to date include participating in the first US cross-company mentoring programme, where we hope to emulate the success of our UK experience and our involvement in the Corporate Boards Future Female Directors programme.
More recently we were involved in the launch of the 30% Club in Italy and look forward to developing our relationships further within that chapter of the organisation.
There has been a definite shift in mindset on the issue of gender diversity over the past few years as evidenced by the updated research carried out by McKinsey with the Professional Services Firms Initiative in 2015. Our work with the 30% Club now focuses on the future of the profession and also the expectations of the millennial generation within the workforce. Freshfields is pleased to have hosted the Initiative’s inaugural event for millennials (male and female) and to be again co-leading on two of the current streams of activity.