By Claire West

A new initiative encouraging UK companies to aim for at least 30% female representation on their boards by 2015 has launched today with Sir Win Bischoff, Chairman of Lloyds Banking Group, and Roger Carr, Chairman of Centrica, at the helm.

A founding group of UK-based Chairmen has been established to champion the 30% Club initiative and encourage other senior business leaders to do the same. Interest in the initiative has been overwhelming. Key supporters include Theresa May Home Secretary and Minister for Women & Equality and Angela Knight, CEO, British Bankers Association.

While there is widespread agreement that greater diversity of board membership at companies is good for business, up until now the pace of change has been slow. Although women represent 60% of all university graduates in Europe, the levels of women on boards remain low, with little progress seen at all over the past 5 years.

Key statistics:
• Women held 12.2% of all Directorships - 5.2% of Executive Directorships and 15.2% of Non-Executive Directorships, in FTSE100 companies in 2009*
• Within the FTSE 100 companies, 21% consist of all-male boards with only 12.5% of board positions being held by women**
• Within the FTSE 250, female representation is significantly lower still, with only 7.9% of board positions being held by women and 52% of companies having all-male boards**
• Companies with women leaders have a 35% higher return on equity***
• Companies with more than three women on their corporate board have an 80% higher return on equity ***

The Club is focused on achieving the 30% goal and influencing change from senior leaders - not about creating another City networking group or discussion platform. It complements the many other elements which support the board selection process and aims to encourage change in corporate culture to widen the female talent pool for consideration when making Board positions.

Sir Win Bischoff, Chairman of Lloyds Banking Group and a Founding Chairman of the 30% Club, said, “As Chairmen, we have an obligation to speed up the pace of change and influence the board selection process to widen the talent pool for consideration. To do this, we need to champion diversity within our own organisations, and as part of that develop our female talent and be prescriptive with search agencies to work towards an aspirational target for better female representation on boards.”

Roger Carr, Chairman of Centrica and a Founding Chairman of the 30% Club, said, "Women win board positions on merit but add value to the role with a different mindset, a different set of skills and a different style. Boards are intellectually and socially enriched by the presence of women and consistently more effective through balanced judgement and opinion in decision-making."

Influential chairmen supporting the initiative as founding members include:
Sir Win Bischoff (Lloyds); Roger Carr (Centrica); Lord Sharman of Redlynch (Aviva); John Griffith-Jones (KPMG); David Tyler (Sainsbury's); Stephen Green (HSBC) and David Cruickshank (Deloitte LLP).

The 30% club believes that gender balance on boards not only encourages better leadership and governance, but diversity further contributes to better all-round board performance, and ultimately increased corporate performance for both the company and its shareholders. Recent findings show that companies with more than three women on their corporate board have an 80% higher return on equity.*

The 30% Club aims to raise awareness of the commercial business reasons for having women on boards and to encourage support and endorsement through Chairmen membership in order to help reach this goal.

The initiative was founded by Helena Morrissey, CEO, Newton Investment Management, and is led by her and a group of senior businesswomen including Diana Brightmore-Armour (Lloyds Banking Group); Tamara Box (Berwin Leighton Paisner); Sally Boyle (Goldman Sachs); Gay Collins (MHP Communications); Mary Goudie (Labour Peer); Vimi Grewal-Carr (Deloitte); Heather McGregor (Taylor Bennett); Melanie Richards (KPMG); Henrietta Royle (City University London); Jane Scott (Professional Boards Forum); Jane Lowe (IMA); Sian Westerman (Rothschild); Sally Gilding (Deutsche Bank); Peninah Thomson (Praesta).