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Women in business - it's an issue for business success

13 July 2015

Gender Diversity is a business issue and not just a women’s issue. And while some old school-tie Boardroom talk may publicly support women on boards, are we really only hearing echoes of a quota system that is reverberating long after the doors of the Boardroom are closed?
Too often we listen to the words that have been bred on BORED thinking. That’s right – we are BORED to snores by well-worn motherhood statements and an archaic boys’ club culture that is well past it’s amuse by date. Directors today who fail to engage in diversity are often considered obsolete, myopic, irresponsible and largely commercially unsound. Not a good look for a company or Board that wants to be recognised for providing a high return to shareholders and more to the point – be seen as a company of high regard. Not a good look at all.
Smart boards on the other hand are now proactively engaging hearts, heads and hands of members who can best and continually serve the diverse roles their companies require. There is little room (and tolerance) for recruitment error or poor behaviour which is tantamount to either a tarnished reputation or financial disaster or both. Ugly stuff.
Yet here is a clear tipping point. Going from old ways to creating a true Board Wellness – a healthy, balanced Board encapsulating diversity in its truest form – including gender, disability, age and culture. Ask yourself if your Board is in or out when it comes to Diversity. If yours is in, write the new script with your children and grandchildren in mind – as they will be the recipients of the change in attitude and behaviour. The decisions you make today about the future make-up and behaviour of the Board –is in your hands now, but theirs later.
However getting the Board Balance right is a conundrum in itself. While it is about women, in another sense it is not about women (alone). It is up to everyone to look at the significance of the contribution their Board makes as a whole so they can deliver the best outcomes and strategies.
But these strategies vary according to a variety of factors. For example, a) women may not presently have strong sponsorship and endorsement by male leaders, and b) may not always have the opportunity to expand their networks as vigorously as men due to greater family commitments and less time. Yet it is not enough to have support or time alone. Women today are at the crossroads of Board wellness and balance, and need to be their best ambassadors. Those who are serious have a unique opportunity to develop and illustrate their personal and professional brand and put it high on the gender agenda. Bottom line is… Be heard, be seen, be known for the value you bring.
But irrespective of where you are at, whether you are in high heels or just well heeled, here are suggestions to build your opportunities and profile and make a compelling and lasting difference.
1. Be a good historian and as well as a futurist to better understand the trends and future cycles of business, the company and Board you work with. This will help with forecasting the possible successes of the future, and avoid the pitfalls of the past. What you don’t know, ASK.
2. Determine whether you are (still) aligned with the companies values on a personal or professional level. Do they have the right integrity factor?
3. Make friends with the balance sheet. Understand the numbers. Do your homework before you do your mouthwork. Make your questions and statements robust and considered. Don’t be intimidated by discussions on figures. Participate and contribute by being prepared and up to date.
Ricky Nowak, CAHRI, MAICD, CMC, CSP works with successful companies and people in developing their leadership focus and impact. She is an executive coach, facilitator and speaker with clients throughout Australasia.
4. While recent data suggests that the number of women directors have increased, only 5 ASX companies have three female board directors (Elaine Prior Citi Investments, 2011). This gap at senior level indicates the feeder from Middle management is low and is not being addressed or sponsored by male or other female board members. What is the gap for your business, and how can you help close it by helping other women?
5. Women who constantly learn and remain current and up to date with global issues as well as all things relevant to the business world can participate more rigorously.
6. Take an external look at other industries and people. Find a mentor, and develop your own Personal Board of Directors/MasterMind which is a highly valuable learning experience for getting feedback and learning. Who is on YOUR Personal Board of Directors? (Gail Wilson, NEM, 2011)
7. Help shape the workforce of the future as it will be constantly changing from local to virtual and dynamic. What will the workforce of the future be like in your company and how can you help prepare for it?
8. Network to improve the net-worth of your company, brand and your own authentic development. Many women typically face more scrutiny at events so be prepared, be proactive and be yourself.
Gender Diversity is a business issue –and not a gender issue. It’s that simple yet sadly that complex. Without a true and fair representation of female thought leadership and directorship, not only is the thinking BORING but so is the capacity to deal with complex problems and decision making - the very thing that makes working on boards rewarding.