Brenda Trenowden

Profile: Brenda Trenowden and the 30% Club

Brenda Trenowden of all people understands the lack of female representation in executive positions. Head of Financial Institutions Group for Europe, and Head of Banks and Diversified Financials E&A for ANZ, she is now the new Global Head of the 30% Club, a campaign that aims to reach the minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards.

Facts on this issue are painful to look at. Women make up 27% of FTSE-100 boards, 23.2% of FTSE-350 boards, and just 19.4% of FTSE 100 ExCos. But the reasons behind this are far from simple. Trenowden explained how it begins when women first go into work. “There is definitely a difference between how men and women present themselves, and how managers interpret how women and men present themselves … men tend to present themselves in an overconfident way quite often, while women tend to be a bit realistic and risk-averse”. Because men predominately set-up or run organisations, when they fail to take into account these differences women are promoted less.

But the reasons don’t stop there. The problem extends to a senior level where women struggle to find as many sponsors as men. As more senior people are often men, Trenowden describes the existence of a more “natural relationship”.

Alongside this is a culture problem that puts off women from large companies, and bias in the language and processes used to employ and promote women. Ultimately, Trenowden sees that “women are as ambitious as men, and they are just as loyal, but women are not getting promoted”.

Yet, adopting a male-like persona is not the solution. Trenowden and the 30% Club promote a top-down and bottom-up approach, because as Trenowden explains, “a multivariate problem requires a multivariate solution”. “Women do have to think about how they present themselves and be more confident, be more aware” she claimed.

But the responsibility also falls on the employers as well. “Men in management positions have to have a more gender lens on their team”. Trenowden believes that men have to take into account these gender differences, while companies also have a responsibility to examine the processes and language they use to avoid bias.

As part of the 30% Club, Trenowden speaks to chairs, CEOs, boards, HR director and governmental ministers to explain why including women in the workplace is both important and beneficial. She speaks at schools and university to encourage women to go into business. This is a passionate issue for Trenowden, because as she said, “this isn’t a social issue this is a financial issue, this is a business issue, and that greater cognitive diversity leads to greater performance”. She explains how this can be done, and what the best practices are, so that companies can “lead the change”.

Why 30% club then and not 50%? Trenowden explained that when the campaign started in 2010, women were only 12.5% of FTSE-100. The campaign wanted a realistic and achievable target. 30% was thereby chosen because, “we knew we had to target a minimum of 30 because 30% is the tipping point … if you’re in a group of ten people and the other 9 are guys, they’ll put a gender spin on it. If there are 2 of you, and the other 8 are men, they’ll get your names mixed up. Once there are 3 of you it starts to get more normalised in the group and they’ll start to hear you as (your name)”. 30% is a minimum and the point at which Trenowden believes momentum can be sustained.

But the 30% Club is against using set quotas to increase female employees, and instead promotes ’voluntary’ ones. Trenowden explained the method, “by going and engaging with businesses and really showing them all the research and the facts as to why this is better for their companies, and then adopting voluntary targets, it starts to flow down to the organisation much more”.

She cited Norway as an example where imposed quotas have actually failed to improve female representation below the levels of board. She also commented that imposed quotas often encourage resentment towards female workers who haven’t appeared to have ‘earned’ their place.

Since 2014, the scale of the campaign has increased to an international level. The 30% Club has launched itself in Ireland, Australia, the United States and Hong Kong. But this is not without its challenges. Trenowden argued that the UK was very fortunate to have a supportive government and concentrated resources in central London.

Other countries on the other hand, have forced the campaign to reconsider its targets. “We have a group that goes across the gulf cooperation countries. They can’t even have meetings in public legally without being part of another organization. And there are certain countries where you can’t be seen to have a campaign”.

But Trenowden is positive about the future, especially of financial services. Trenowden has in the past described financial companies as ‘old boys clubs’. This however is changing. 93 financial firms have signed up to the HM Treasury Women in Finance Charter which requires business leaders to take on the initiative of gender diversity as a priority and report publicly on their progress. As Trenowden describes, “we’re on the cusp of some really significant change”. Trenowden encouraged students considering careers in finance, and stated that “for women coming in now it’s their time”.

We also discussed the situation in the US. I wanted to know Trenowden’s opinion on the feminist argument: did Clinton lose because she was a woman? Trenowden commented that “I think she was held up a much higher standard than Trump was, and was under greater scrutiny”. Likability was much more of an issue for Clinton than it was for Trump, though Trenowden admits that “it’s not the whole answer, but certainly played into it”.

Trenowden has a career, a family and as she mentioned, a puppy too. Does she think then that women can ‘have it all’? “I think you can have it all but you can’t have it all at the same time. There are compromises and it’s a constant juggling act”, Trenowden commented. This juggling act depends on the nature of a relationship. For Trenowden, discussion is crucial in deciding how partners sacrifice and manage priorities at different times. “It shouldn’t all fall on the woman; it should not all fall on the man”. She argued that this balance requires for one partner to take a step back at some points, while their partner focusses on their career.

Confidence is as important as competence for women. When asked for advice, Trenowden cited Moya Green’s ethos, that women need ‘posses’: people around them for encouragement and confidence. Trenowden advise young women to, “surround yourself with people who help you with that, that give you more energy. Seek out mentors and build your council of wise people that can give you advice and help out. Spend time knowing yourself and take some risks … Be resilient, if you want to reach an executive position, really know why you want to be get there and what you’re willing to do to get there, and who are the people who are going to help you out”.

Having people to trust, for feedback and advice, are crucial for women in business. As Trenowden stated, “we all need help and we need to make sure that we are going to build those posses and those networks that are going to help us”.

Trenowden’s new website is: