2018 – The Year of the Gender Balanced Boardroom!
The Time Has Come – The Facts
In Australia, the calls for increased diversity on boards are getting louder, although the rate of change is still “glacial”. Each day, businesses are offered compelling examples of how diversity on boards increases profits, progresses the company culture, increases staff retention and cultivates creative thinking. The demand is strong but the progression is slow. So if you are a woman, you might be thinking now is a good time to seriously develop your own path to the board.
But “muscling” in on the men is no easy feat. The Australian Institute of Directors’ targets for 30 percent diversity on boards by 2018 will most likely not be met, according to Chairwoman Elizabeth Proust. A staggering, 11 ASX 200 companies have no women on their boards and 64 have just one. One woman on a board does not mean it’s diverse. At all. Proust says the issue isn’t just the fact that there are still companies with no women on their boards, the real issue is the one-woman boards.
“Ten of the 64 companies with a lone female director have been there for three years or more. And since she was appointed, multiple men – as many as eight or nine – have been appointed”.
There are several reasons why men exclude women from boards, all of which are created by gender role expectations and limitations. But we’re not going to go into the reasons why here. What we want to do, is get you to the board.
What does it mean to be on the board?
Let’s start at the beginning. What does it mean to be “on the board”? There are essentially two types of boards; an executive board of directors and a non-executive board of directors.
The executive board, also known as the C-Suite, are the chief members of their division. For example, the Chief Financial Officer or the Chief Marketing Officer. Usually, these members work full time at the company. The Chief Executive Officer or CEO is the manager of this board and is responsible for the overall results of the company.
The Non-Executive Board of Directors is a group of people who are the strategic managers of the CEO and the company. The Board can hire or fire the CEO. Strategy, investment, and all important decisions are presented to or created by The Board. The Board represents the interests of shareholders and oversees how the company works. The Board may have some internal members but usually, most of them are external and do their Board duties part-time.
How to Get started on a Non-Executive Board – The Three C’s:
All board directors are fiduciaries. This means they are in control of and have the best interests of the people at the company they are directing, its assets and its finances. Governance is the name of the game here, and you cannot ever wing the financials and governance of the company, the law and its regulators. You need to know the legal and behavioural requirements involved in being director, all the duties and jurisdictions, and this cannot be overstated.
Directorship takes up a lot of time and good directors plan for it properly and as such, it is like any other demanding role in your life. You must be prepared, constantly educating yourself on the company and the sector it operates in. You must be able to act in times of crisis and make level-headed decisions based on the specialisation you bring to the table.
You have been appointed to a board for you, your work history, unique qualities and experience and your potential to add value. You cannot feel less than equal to any other board member. You will be required to speak up and voice your opinion and how you will drive the company and why.
How to Get the Skills
In Australia there are several educational and facilitation groups whose purpose is to encourage diversity on boards and train those needing work on their three C’s, or simply contemplating their first non-executive board role:
Our favourites are:
Women on Boards says it all. Women on Boards has been working for more than 10 years to address gender inequity in the boardroom and across leadership roles. They offer courses covering strategic career advice, courses, mentoring, networking and access to board positions. They also offer counseling and guidance on career advancement on executive boards.
The Future Directors Institute’s mission is to create, empower and support, an international community of next generation directors steering meaningful change from the boardroom. The Institute also offers kickstarter courses, accelerator courses and one-on-one coaching solutions. Their emphasis is not only on gender balance but dispelling the myth you are too young or too old to be on the board.
Board Direction is more of a recruitment service that helps people gain board appointments. Its services range from recruitment to advice and information on finding a board position.
The AICD is for those people already on a board looking to further their experience of board membership. It’s a deep and wide resource representing the Australian company director and they offer many courses on any current issues affecting directors; from cyber issues, to modern governance, to reporting on gender issues.
How to Get on a Board
Work out what your passion is and how your skills and knowledge can help in a particular sector or company. It’s important that you’re specific about what type of board you want to be on. Investigate which industries, sectors, causes and company-types would best suit you, and work from there. You will be hired based on your unique skills and experience, so focus on those strengths and truths.
Volunteer Your Time
Volunteering for a company is a great way to get noticed by its board. This approach can work well with cause-related organisations and boards, that tend to not have the time and money to go out and proactively look for people. Once you’re proving your value within the organisation, you’re more likely to be considered when a director position arises. Also, boards are always building lists of prospective directors to contact when positions come up. Getting on these lists is a useful step.
Market Yourself and Your Boardroom Training
If you’ve been through some sort of formal board training, shout it out. Put it on your CV, LinkedIn and any other public platforms you have. Talk about what you’ve been doing and make sure people know you are board ready and waiting!
Even if networking is not your thing, it’s a great way to meet people who can really accelerate your progression to the board. Networking doesn’t always mean presenting at a meetup or attending industry events. It can be as simple as picking up the phone to an old colleague or approaching someone via LinkedIn.
But if you can stomach industry events, you’ll be positioning yourself as a director even if you’re not one yet, simply by being in the same space as active board members.