Quality, not Quotas
Organisations that are seeking to future-proof through increased innovation and entrepreneurship benefit significantly from accessing the knowledge and experience of diverse founders at a board level. Since 1991, there has been an 80% increase in the number of female-founded businesses within Australia. However, within this innovative and entrepreneurial space, a gap remains for women scaling their businesses – and themselves. As the global professional body for best-practice advisory boards we are seeking to address this gap through several initiatives within our network, as well as the wider community, such as our ongoing partnership with Advance Queensland, a project of the Queensland Government.
Under our joint Female Founders Program, Advance Queensland recently sponsored a scholarship for twelve entrepreneurial women to undertake the Advisory Board Centre’s Certified Chair™ Executive Program to provide entrepreneurial and innovative thinkers with the practical steps to explore their own personal pathway to the boardroom. We also recently launched our Advancing Women on Boards program as a practical approach for organisations to invest in the development of high-performing, high-potential female leaders, and to increase the representation and participation of women at senior executive and board levels.
While the Advisory Board Centre continues to provide these opportunities and redefine what is considered ‘valuable’, it’s time for board appointment priorities to shift to quality, and away from quotas.
Diversity of the individual
Existing female founders within the Advisory Board Centre community can attest to the need for empowered diversity within board-level roles. Recently, Advance Queensland interviewed four such game-changers from the Advisory Board Centre’s Certified Chair™ network (you can view these interviews here) on their professional experiences ascending to the boardroom.
ASX Board Director, Jo Willoughby, has been heavily involved in organisational strategy formation on advisory boards. Her involvement has led her to ask, “How can organisations be influencing strategy when there’s not a fair representation on the board?”
Indeed, how can a board make an effective strategy if its members aren’t representative of its customer base and stakeholders? Jo adds, “The richness of having greater women on boards is really evident because there’s a new perspective that is brought to the conversation.”
The appointment of more women to board roles doesn’t serve to just fulfil a quota, but to provide a challenge to the thought process of an organisation and its practices. There is an inherent risk when an organisation does not think beyond its own industry or current focus.
Building off the notion of bringing alternate perspectives to boards, Sonya Beyers, Founder of Governance by Design, believes that boards, “…should encourage diversity of perspective because it encourages richer discussion and allows us to make good decisions when we have complex problems – we need to embrace the different perspectives.”
This begs the question of how a diverse perspective is informed, and how it is shaped. Linda Ginger, who has a 20-year career in helping businesses adapt to market changes, believes a “…different perspective to problem-solving and just having a different life experience contributes to what is valued by the board and the decisions that it makes.”
It is evident the board space needs to stop thinking about diversity through the scope of gender and start appointing board members according to the value they can contribute. This value should be based upon the perspective they bring to the boardroom, in addition to their skills, experience and background.
As per the ABF101 Best Practice Framework™, it is within the nature of advisory boards to be flexible and fit-for-purpose. The most optimal way of achieving this is to drive for a board that when in place, possesses a diverse skill set and background, making it specifically equipped to fulfil the scope and objectives as set out by the organisation.
Possessing twenty-five years of experience in senior management and consulting, Sandra Poon is of the view that, “same gets you the same.” “It’s my collective experience and working in many different environments with many different people and many different situations, that has allowed me to feel that I can sit on a board.”
Initiatives for future advisory boards – and boards in general
While members of the Advisory Board Centre’s community are redefining diversity outside the scope of gender, it is still important that opportunities are provided for people that are otherwise limited. As a community and as an organisation, we are actively moving in this space to enable and encourage female founders, but there’s more to do. As industries undergo this change in defining organisational values and board appointments, it is necessary for leading organisations in other states and countries to be change makers within the field. This shouldn’t be done in the pursuit of corporate consciousness, but to ensure that organisations are appreciating and utilising a talent pool full of skilled professionals, which in turn will have an immensely positive effect on every aspect of a business.
Our CEO and founder, Louise Broekman, furthers this point, “As a female founder, it has been a pleasure to support both women in business and advancing women on boards. Not because it is a societal issue – it just makes good business sense to support anyone in a leadership role. Diverse, quality thinking from an advisory board was life-changing for me and my business at the time.”
The Advisory Board Centre will continue to support others through joint programs, such as our partnership with the Queensland Government, as well as with our Advancing Women on Boards initiative. There is huge opportunity for other organisations and government bodies across the globe to also lean in and collaborate with us to nurture leaders of the future. This is not about gender as a metric, it’s about alignment, contribution, and impactful outcomes. Let’s stop talking and start acting.