There needs to be a revolution, not evolution, in board composition and appointment so all talent can be considered, chief executive of Newton Asset Management, Helena Morrissey, told delegates at the ACSI conference in Sydney.

Morrissey, who is one of only 2 per cent of chief executives in financial services globally to be female, told delegates that gender diversity is just the start of a very big problem, not just at boards but all through the corporate world.

“The number of women on boards is an early indicator of many other problems. We need to overcome group think,” she says, adding a group can become so convinced of its own propaganda it shuts out other people, ideas or independent critical thinking.

In addition to gender she also agrees diversity of age, educational background and ethnicity is lacking on boards.

In 2010 Morrissey, who also has nine children and is the chair of the UK’s Investment Management Association, launched the 30% Club, a group of business leaders committed to achieving better gender balance at all levels of organisations, in the belief it will make businesses and boards more effective.

As an indicator of the success of the group, the number of women on boards at FTSE 100 companies has increased from 12.5 per cent in 2010 to 25 per cent today.

The 30% Club has now also launched in Australia and will be led by Patricia Cross, chair of CSC and board member of Macquarie. (CSC has six women board members and five men).

A study of financial services companies in 20 countries by PwC found that 60 per cent of employees are women, but only 2 per cent are chief executives, and 14 per cent are board directors.

Morrissey says that only 7 per cent of UK retail funds are managed by female funds managers, and globally only 3 per cent of hedge fund managers are women.

“There needs to be an epiphany, a realisation among business men and women, that the biggest change is mindset,” Morrissey said. “This is not a woman’s issue but a business issue.”

Morrissey is arguing for a concerted, relentless, collaborative and measureable effort from the school room to the board room, supported by public policy, in order to shift “normal”.

She says in order to revolutionise the board, executive search firms need to be on board, the board needs to give better briefs, and investors need to get engaged.

Morrissey points to the Harvard Business Review article: “What makes a team smarter? More women” in which Harvard researchers found there’s little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQs of its individual members. Further, the research shows if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises. A group’s collective IQ has more to do with its dynamics, how it works together, than the individuals’ intelligence.

“Diversity is important because men and women are fundamentally different, biologically and in the way they think and behave. Women and men are not better or worse than each other, they just behave differently. We need to accept that they complement each other, it’s why diversity works,” she says.

She also points out that the world is becoming more feminine given the globalisation and technology trends.

“Power is less about top down and more about networks and women are more inclined to collaborate. Smart companies get this, but traditional finance analysis doesn’t pay attention to this factor. ESG analysis does and we should aim is to move this issue from ESG to the mainstream,” she says. “There are huge opportunities that require thinking in a different way. There is little evidence of disruptive ideas.”



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