Thursday 24 March 2016

First steps towards a board role

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have just released their new report on board appointment practices in the UK’s largest 350 listed firms. More than 60% of these firms have not met a voluntary target of 25% female board members. If you're interested in boosting these numbers, this week's post by Rowena Ironside, Chair of Women on Boards UK, explores what types of roles you can seek in the boardroom, how to go about it, and what you can bring to the table. 

Some of us are fortunate to get an insight into the boardroom early on in our career. In my case this was thanks to being an executive director of a start-up business at the age of 30. But for most people what goes on in the boardroom remains a mystery until very late in their career. And if you don’t know what boards do, how do you know if your skills are relevant or if the role is one that you will enjoy?

Women on Boards (WOB) exists to fill this information gap. Our mission is to influence a measurable increase in the proportion of women both on boards and in “pipeline” roles at the executive level. And to achieve increased transparency in the board recruitment process, because at the moment the majority of board roles (public sector aside) are never advertised.

The good news is that the single most valuable asset in most boardrooms is common sense. Accompanied by the courage to ask tough questions and challenge the status quo from time to time.

Boards exist to challenge and support the executive team. They add value through a combination of collective judgement and the deep, specific expertise of each director. As an individual board member you don’t need to know everything; you don’t even need to have expertise in the “core business” of the organisation. As long as you bring a specific skill, experience or network that is valuable to the organisation at that point in time. For example:  
  • Don’t assume that you need to be a horticulturalist or an environmentalist to join the board of Kew Gardens. They may have a gap for digital marketing or event management skills on their board this year.
  •  First board role? Not everyone around the table needs to have years of boardroom experience. A board that is explicitly searching for past governance experience is not going to be anybody’s first board role. But most boards are equally interested in your breadth of experience and professional skills.
A common mistake is defining your options too narrowly by thinking you have to stay – or at least start – in “your sector”. Some charities need asset management and M&A experience and you may find that a Public Sector board is in need of your technology or risk management skills.

Women on Boards is there to help you navigate this complexity. Our resources and support are designed to provide a structured pathway to a board position that is right for you. As Clara Durodie, one of our members described it last year: “It felt as if someone was holding my hand, guiding me with care and skill”. WOB provides:
  1. Workshops, events and masterclasses that combine strategic insights and pragmatic advice. Our Getting Started: Realising your Board Potential workshop is a fast-paced tour through everything you need to know about directorship and how to do yourself justice as a candidate. Our Boardroom Conversations are designed to “open the curtains” so that you can be inspired by the opportunities on boards in a sector you haven't previously considered, or for in-depth insights from current non-executives in an area you are targeting.
  2. Access to board vacancies across all sectors – most weeks we have at least 150 non-executive director, trustee and governor vacancies on the WOB Vacancy Board.
  3.  Feedback on your Board CV. Writing a non executive profile that does you justice takes time and requires insight into what board members actually do. We will help.
  4.  Personal advice, connections and encouragement. This is WOB’s USP.  We will support you with targeted interventions at key points along the way, like when you are preparing for a board interview. We also do hugs if you are recovering from coming second for that role you really wanted.
  5. A rich Resource Centre of reference materials, research, articles and success stories. Our On Board page is my personal favourite. 
There are thousands of different boards across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. WOB believes that there is a board role for everyone who wants one and that you are never too young to understand what goes on at the top table. The boardroom is where capital is allocated and where the moral and ethical standards for organisations in all sectors are set. We need more female voices at the table.
For more information about strategic volunteering, read our previous post here.

Rowena Ironside is Chair of Women on Boards UK, a non-executive director of the Digital Catapult and sits on the Governing Body of Hughes Hall, Cambridge. Before “going plural”, Rowena spent 25 years in the ICT industry, starting her career writing software in Australia; building and selling an IT services business in London and finally running several multi-national professional and managed services businesses in the software and hosting industries. She took a year’s break in 2002 to complete the Sloan Masters at London Business School.

For more information on Women on Boards, join The WOB Network

Posted by Muriel

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