Hanneke Smits, CEO of BNY Mellon Investment Management, is to become the fourth global chair of the 30% Club, which campaigns to increase the number of women at board and senior management levels of the world's biggest companies. 

She succeeds Ann Cairns in the role, who retired as executive vice chair of Mastercard at the end of 2022. Cairns joined the 30% Club in 2019 as co-chair, working with the late Brenda Trenowden before becoming sole global chair in 2020.

Smits, who became CEO of BNY Mellon IM in October 2020 after heading up Newton Investment Management for four years, has championed improving gender diversity in the workplace throughout her career.

In 2015, she co-founded Level 20, a not-for-profit organisation established to inspire women to succeed in the private equity industry. She also chairs Impetus, a venture philanthropy organisation that backs charities to transform the lives of disadvantaged young people.

At BNY Mellon IM, Smits is executive sponsor of PRISM, the company's LGBTQ+ employee group. She has championed many initiatives such as Newton Investment Management's work with the Diversity Project to ensure that returning female portfolio managers were able to maintain their investment track record, as well as BNY Mellon's partnership with Inspiring Girls through The Pathway to Inclusive Investment research in 2022, and being an early supporter of the UK's #10000BlackInterns programme.

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Commenting on her new role, Smits said: "It is an honour to succeed Ann Cairns as global chair of the 30% Club and to continue its mission of increasing the number of women at board and senior management levels.

"The role of the 30% Club is as vital now as it was at launch in 2010. Even today, the baseline target of reaching 30% women - either at board or senior management level - remains a stretch for many organisations throughout the world. Reaching the campaign's ultimate goal of gender parity will take significant effort and investment. I look forward to continuing to grow the 30% Club internationally and tackle a wider range of diversity challenges, inside and outside the boardroom."

Under Cairns' leadership, the 30% Club formed new chapters in Mexico, Colombia and Chile and welcomed Poland, Ecuador and an investor group in France. Her involvement with UN Women's Outstanding Women's Leaders Group saw the 30% Club, Melinda French-Gates and the UN Foundation hold what is believed to be the world's biggest meeting of CEOs and company chairs to discuss gender equality in May 2021.

She also broadened the UK chapter's target to focus on racial equality, which included the launch of the Mission INCLUDE strand of the 30% Club's cross-company mentoring programme, enabling individuals from all underrepresented groups to participate. In addition, she launched the Leaders for Race Equity CEO development programme last year in partnership with Change the Race Ratio and Moving Ahead.

Cairns said: "On behalf of the members of the 30% Club, we are proud to welcome Hanneke as our new global chair. It will be invaluable to have a respected leader of Hanneke's experience and calibre join the global campaign at a time when many companies are still struggling to achieve diversity at board and executive levels.

"In the UK, for instance, we may have reached 40% women on the boards of the FTSE 100, but the majority remain in non-executive roles; there are just 25% women at executive committee level and just eight female CEOs. Women of colour remain under-represented at every managerial and leadership level. We must continue to keep diversity and inclusion high on the agenda."

The 30% Club was launched in 2010 by Dame Helena Morrissey, who was CEO of Newton at the time. Its initial target of 30% women on boards was reached across the FTSE 100 in September 2019, and this figure has now risen to 40%.

UK steering committee member Karin Barnick, a partner at executive search and leadership advisory firm Korn Ferry in London, was also thanked by the 30% Club for leading the search for its new global chair on a pro bono basis.