"We need to strengthen the role of women as directors, the performance of the companies on whose boards we serve, and the use of best practices in corporate governance globally. We need to move together to create boards as they should be – multi-gender, multi-skilled, multi-national, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational. That’s how we’ll make a difference around the table, in the world, and for the world."
Susan Stautberg and Nancy Calderon’s Women on Board is an excellent book. It serves a dual purpose: getting more women to seek leadership positions on boards and making those boards real instruments of change and success for the businesses they serve by being diverse and competent.
Knowing what corporate boards consist of is a key element here. Getting appointed is not an overnight venture; it’s something you want to build towards. Sitting on a board comes with risks and responsibilities. Therefore, you want to make the best choices along the way and once there, you want to be the best you can.
If you are considering board membership, this book will guide you on the path to getting appointed. Great boards bring together people who have “different kinds of competencies, skills, knowledge, professional experiences and personal qualities”. Playing that role is both a privilege and a big challenge. You’ll find that the authors are proponents of making boards visionary and inclusive. Their message is more about diversity!
The Big Idea
Vision equates success
"Great directors go the edge of business issues, openly bringing up the unanswered questions, and encouraging discussion… Visionary boards spend time on forward looking issues, not just backward looking ones."
Reading this book has given me a better grasp of the complex world of corporate boards. Having a board that performs well and that is visionary is quite an accomplishment. A board is a team. It needs to work together and is in constant need of nourishment to keep growing. It requires a tremendous amount of work to be able to cope with elements that can be local based, national or global in nature.
Being a visionary is key to long-term success. How do you know if a board is ‘visionary’, up with the times, and adapted to our changing world? Here are few points taken from a list of self-assessment questions to help you find out.
- The board governance model: Keeping the governance model alive and well is a big challenge for all boards. Has it evolved? Is it still optimal? A board is a team that has to work together to always keep the team strong.
- Risk management: How does the board assess or supervise risk? There are many forms of risk, but dealing with them starts with the question ‘What if?’.
- Decision-making: Does the board have the info it needs to make good decisions? Are those decisions made with long term interests in mind?
- Board Performance: How does it measure its own performance? How is it doing?
As a board member, you can contribute to making a board visionary. It’s important to understand and recognize what has been accomplished, but it is also very important to look ahead.
Women on boards is good for business
"Putting women board isn’t about ‘feeling good’ or ‘doing good’. It’s absolutely great for business."
It’s written in black and white that having women on boards is actually great for business. In fact, when representation of women on boards is 30% or more, a company outperforms those with fewer women on the board. The authors go over several reasons why it makes so much sense to have more diverse boards:
- It provides a better mix of leadership skills;
- An access to a wider pool of talent;
- It’s a better reflection of the consumer as more women are responsible for household spending decisions;
- Improved corporate governance, namely because women are better at communicating, prioritizing and considering corporate social responsibility and the list goes on.
Are you ready to sit on a board? Here are a few questions to help you find out. If you answer yes to all, you’re ahead of most.
- I have identified the corporation on whose board I wish to serve (and I know why);
- I have spent time researching the company and can identify the CEO, CFO, COO and current board directors;
- I have identified what value I can bring to the table;
- I am committed to allocating time and preparation for this role.
The responsibilities of a board member are enormous; the challenge even greater for women. As Pernille Sppiers-Lopez, former US President of IKEA suggests: “A woman can spend many, many years trying to break the glass ceiling and, when she does, she often finds a culture and agenda created for men by men. It is often an intense and exclusive culture and not the best environment for women to thrive in. It is the same in the board room – we need to change the culture in the meeting room as well.”
With this in mind now, I truly am in awe of women who are sitting on boards. Bravo!
You got the job, now what?
"You were not chosen randomly… You are there because you have value to give, and you were selected because of that value even if you think you don’t have the qualifications. So, be confident in your own worth and your own knowledge"
This book is an invitation to women to step up to the plate and seek directorship. It is a guide filled with tips and advice to assist them in all the important steps of that journey. But what happens when you get there? What do you do? Where do you start? Here is some sound advice:
- Doing a great job starts by being prepared. Do your homework! Know everything about the company and the industry you are now representing. Meet the people in the company.
- Learn how the board works. How is it governed? What skills do the other members have? That will help you position yours. Read the minutes of the past board meetings. Find out about the finances. Take time to know the other board members. Find out from the other members how meetings operate.
- Finding your voice! The authors strongly encourage board members to be authentic and to be a good listener and observer at the initial stages to get the feel for the board. That doesn’t mean selling yourself short!
Women on Board is filled with action tips, tools such as the skills set matrix and the biography template. There are many quotes and real life examples to learn from. We are presented with passages of women (and some men) telling us about their true life experiences on boards. This makes the book so human and compelling.
I’ve rarely read a book with so many thought provoking questions. They provide the reader with terrific insight which starts the reader on the path to successful board membership.