Top Tips for Women Aspiring to Be Board Directors

Our Tips for Women From a Board Recruitment Expert

Windsor Group is a Brisbane-based recruitment firm and social enterprise with a national and international reach. In this blog, we ask our CEO, Dylys Bertelsen OAM, to share her insider’s perspective and top tips for women aspiring to be board directors.

Dylys, are Boards trying to recruit women?

In truth, there is quite a difference between boards when it comes to recruiting women.

Some boards have active strategies to recruit women to boards. The Queensland Government has led the way by setting targets for its boards to appoint women to 50% of all new appointments and for all boards to have an equal number of women by 2020.  Both targets were achieved – and ahead of time!

These boards are now able to benefit from having women directors. Research tells us that those benefits include enhanced financial, social and workforce performance, as well as a flow-on effect in how the organisation is perceived.  Through inclusiveness, these boards now enjoy greater effectiveness in decision quality and improved governance.

Unfortunately, other boards have not achieved equal representation yet. The Women on Boards (WOB) Boardroom Gender Diversity Index (BGDI) shows that the percentage of women on boards has been rising steadily across a wide range of sectors. However, the laggard is ASX companies who are ranked worst with only 25% females on their boards. Other sectors have achieved 30%, and many have achieved the 40:40:20 target advocated by WOB over the past decade.

So it seems that most boards are accepting that women on boards is good for business, but some are a bit ponderous at making it happen!

What skills should women showcase when applying for boards?

By definition, Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) do not control the management levers. Their role is to be literate and have intelligence about key areas for which boards are responsible or accountable.

Being “hands-off”, NEDs enjoy the mental space to take a healthy interest in immediate issues arising in monthly or quarterly reports and longer-term issues to help position the company for success in a changing world.

Boards look for governance experience (or equivalent), particular skill-sets, and people with industry or sector experience who understand the internal and external environments and culture. That’s a bit tough, but not a barrier, for people seeking to get on their first board.

Experienced recruiters look for five categories of boardroom capabilities:

  • Strategic planning
  • Financial literacy
  • People-skills
  • Understanding your value-add to the group, and
  • Whether you are a good fit in a stable yet dynamic board.

What do you mean by strategic skills?

When I think ‘strategic’, I think of the company’s sustainability when confronted by challenges such as pandemics, volatile world and local markets, risk appetite in the face of uncertainty such as supply chain disruptions, work force shortages, and extreme weather events.

Directors must understand the potential for emerging and re-emerging risks of relevance to the business. The past three decades is replete with technology disruption, but who saw the COVID-19 pandemic coming? Who understood how consecutive La Nina extreme weather events would hit South East Queensland communities and businesses? Many smart companies were able to benefit from disruption because they invested in digital technology to improve flexibility.

So, Dylys, I’m not an accountant! What financial skills do I need?

The good news is that you don’t need to be an accountant. Most business courses now include subjects on financial literacy, that is, the ability to read, interpret, and interrogate the financial statements. You wouldn’t go into a board interview without knowing the key things to look for in the financial statements. At Windsor Group, we offer this training as part of our Fiscal Fundamentals service.

My quick top five:

  1. Does the Auditor’s Certificate state the figures are true, fair, and compliant?
  2. Check the P&L for revenue and expenses, and trending profitability.
  3. Check the Balance Sheet for assets and liabilities. How are debt and equity geared?
  4. Cash flow – Cash is the O2 of business.
  5. Net profits over time – so you can compare the market.

I get along with most people. What special people skills do I need?

This is the ability to relate to and build good working relationships with other board members and executive leaders. It’s about team-work. Think reflective listening, suggesting, motivating, influencing, encouraging, persuasion, and having the maturity to use the right skill at the right time.

How do I show the value that I could add to a board?

This is a tough one because you probably have many well-rounded skills, yet you need to stand out. What can you be ‘famous’ for? Try asking yourself how the other board directors might categorise your skills. People generally understand what a lawyer or accountant would bring to a board. But you should identify and articulate your strategic competencies clearly.

I suggest that you develop your self-narrative in terms of your in-depth understanding of the particular sector you are targeting. Once appointed, you might find yourself speaking-up when other directors make statements based on uninformed assumptions about sector dynamics.

Culture is so vague and maybe it needs a shake-up!  How will they know that I will fit in?

This is about how you co-contribute to developing an environment of trust in which directors and executives can have open discussions without fear of blame. So, from your first contact, be open, genuine, and mindful in the way you communicate.

How do I go about applying for board positions?

At Windsor Group, amongst a variety of different roles, we often recruit for board positions. To be considered for future opportunities, we have a few systems in place to assist with your job search.

  • Sign-up to receive Job Alert notifications for our latest roles here.
  • Submit your resume and register your details with Windsor Group to be considered for future job opportunities. Find out more here.
  • View our current job opportunities via the Job Search page.