Having been to several “Gender Diversity – Women on Boards” type seminars and workshops over the last few years, it was very clear and evident that the “Board Pack” is of the utmost importance and that the information contained therein is critical to the decisions that are taken and the strategies that are agreed upon in order for the company to grow in a positive way.
What was also evident though is that the Board Pack and its’ informational requirements is not the only thing that a Board member has to deal with and this side of the proceedings is often neglected when research is done to ascertain what a new Board member needs to know.
It is a recognized fact that as a country, businesses need to include more women onto the Boards. The reality is that more than 52% of the workforce in the world (not just in the country but in the world) are women. That means that more than 52% of the skill set that a business requires resides in the female population.
In this age where there is a world-wide skill shortage, why would any business leader deliberately exclude himself from more than 52% of the skill sets that are so desperately needed? It makes good business sense then to include women, not only in the workplace, but also in the decision making positions and of course at Board level.
I recently had the privilege of attending a Business Engage “Boardwalk” breakfast that was hosted by Rand Merchant Bank (RMB), where the CEO James Formby stated that diversity is necessary in the Board room because it challenges opinions and creates a different perspective.
Many of the questions that were raised by enthusiastic aspiring to be female Board members, were in fact about issues other than the universally known Board pack.
I was fortunate enough to engage in an informal chat with James and asked him what some of the things, “beyond the Board pack” that we, as women also need to know about in order for us to make a significant difference on the Boards that we may choose to sit on.
“Technical ‘know how’ is not necessary to be a Board member” says James, “but common sense is and women have a huge amount of common sense.”
As women we often second guess ourselves and agonize about whether or not it is the correct thing to do or the right decision to make. It’s time we got over ourselves and believed in ourselves and just “go” with our instincts. That’s just another way of saying “use your common sense!” Ladies, it is built into our DNA, just trust yourself.
Another thing that James was very clear about is the asking of questions. It’s a good thing but just be aware of the manner in which those questions are asked. Don’t be confrontational or aggressive and demanding. Remember that as a ‘newbie’ on the Board, you don’t really have any frame of reference in terms of the history of what is happening. In the interests of clarity you obviously need to ask the question, but use the right tone and the right words or alternatively try and get the answers before you go into the Boardroom.
It is always a good idea to find yourself a “mentor” on that Board. Find someone who you respect and whose opinions you can relate to and ask them if they will ‘guide’ you in the correct protocols and processes that the Board follows.
“Establish a rapport with the CEO and make sure that you are ‘visible’ to the organization”, says James. Understand what the company does. The only way that you truly get a “feel” for that as well the culture of the company, in my opinion, is to spend some time there. Get someone to take you on a guided ‘walk through’. Meet the HOD’s (Heads of Departments), talk to some of the staff and familiarize yourself with what is happening, how it happens and when it happens. It will certainly give you a more thorough grounding and assist you with making more informed decisions when it comes time to vote.
Roll up your sleeves and get yourself involved! Get yourself interested in the welfare and progress of the Company. Remember that there are also a number of sub-committees that are set up for various projects. Make sure that you get yourself onto some of these sub-committees. This again will give you a better perspective on what is happening in the company. The more you engage, the more information you get about how the company works and what the challenges are, the easier it will be to make informed decisions which of course means that you will make more of a difference and at the end of the day, isn’t that why you want to be on a Board – to make a difference?