Does Joining the Board Really Mean Joining the Men’s Team?

By Donna Price, Governance Coach and founder of the Governance Boutique

Evidently, it does.

I believe that many of our achievements arise out of our effort (many times, significant effort), skill, character and personality. Growing up in my neighbourhood, more boys than girls participated in sports. Undeterred by size and gender, it never occurred to me that I could not or should not play energetic ‘boys games’. Mixing it up with the boys (and girls) in sports was a passion. I often made delicate choices between time spent with my young girlfriends and time spent with my young boyfriends.

In mixed sports teams, I learned from boys and they learned from me. My objective was not to defeat boys in a game but rather to join them and prove my worth to the team and their worth to me. Sports was empowering for me. My awareness of gender power imbalances and barrier issues, for girls in sport in particular, came later.

This brings me to my passions for business, corporate and board governance and women’s representation on boards. A renewed focus on diversity of boards – both women and other under-represented communities, has raised the question on what board diversity is and in particular, what board gender diversity means.

According to Osler 2022 Diversity Disclosure Practices – Diversity and leadership at Canadian public companies  (the Osler Diversity Report) “Women now hold 26% of board seats among all TSX-listed companies disclosing the number of women directors on their boards” and “At S&P/TSX 60 companies, women hold 36% of all board seats. At S&P Composite Index companies, women hold 32.9% of all board seats.”

Significantly, the Osler Diversity Report notes the focus on gender as well as visible minority representation on boards as well as the focus shift towards gender parity on boards and includes data from the UK, USA and Australia.  Generally speaking, I believe these findings reflect global circumstances and underpin the determined motivations of women and men, as well as organizations, for greater gender representation on boards as well as greater visible minority diversity.

The research indicates that aspiring women must continue to promote a gender value script outside the boardroom as well as inside. Diversity characterized as a board competency (rather than a choice) is a benefit in the boardroom. Women are entitled to serve on boards, as they are entitled to play sports; however, gender alone is not the best indicator of ability.  

Thoroughly evaluating your level of board readiness, your governing style and getting the right board for you is more important than just getting on a board. At all levels, board service is increasingly complex. A thorough assessment of your ability should be considered when choosing where you want to contribute your value for board service.  Understanding the types of boards and board roles and creating your own search and growth strategies are equally important considerations.

Potential board directors are considered on their own merits and companies are selective in choosing board members. Core selection criteria frequently include an assessment of: specific skills and expertise, leadership/character traits, relevant situational industry/sector experience and cultural alignment.  Personal qualities are evaluated. Reflecting the current era of modern board governance, many companies require directors to have specialized governance training and degrees as entry-level stakes as well as prior board experience – these boards may not be the best starting point for initial board service. Increasingly, boards are expanding the desired skill sets beyond ‘prior CEO experience’ to reflect current priorities and challenges facing organizations in ESG, technology disruption/transformation, risk and so on. As desired skill sets expand beyond ‘prior CEO experience’, the opportunities for skilled women and other under-represented communities may expand as well.

Selection processes are progressively rigorous. The competition for paid board roles is strong. Positioning yourself as the answer to a board opportunity and taking time to reflect, research and respond to each board opportunity are necessary investments.  Boards want and need to understand your value and contribution and prospective directors are scrutinized for their ability to serve and lead in any number of circumstances. There is no one size fits all board – each board is distinct from the other and define competencies in different ways. 

After reflecting and researching the opportunity, investing your time and energy to chronicle your board value (a written profile, resume and cover letter) oriented to the distinct board opportunity, are essential investments.  These documents are an individual extension of you and express your boardroom capital and intelligence – and evolve as you evolve.  Each board document can be remodeled for each new board opportunity. 

Women doing their level best to achieve board roles inspire me. I am delighted to lend my experience and skill in helping you reflect, research and respond to board role opportunities and navigate your unique journey to the boardroom. Reach out to us at The Governance Boutique to help us fulfill our purpose to support you in your journey to the boardroom.

Member Organizations Supporting Women in Board Journey (Canada)

Women Get On Board Inc. – a social purpose membership based company that connects, promotes and empowers women to corporate boards through programs and events and board opportunities

Board Ready Women – an Alberta based member organization that provides recruitment opportunities, skill-building programs and events to support women in their board career journey

Director Prep – a member based organization helping directors prepare for their board role

Women in Governance – supports women in their leadership development, career advancement and access to Board seats

Published by Governance Boutique

We support women in their quest to land a board position. The Governance Boutique was created to provide board document writing and interviewing services to aspiring and serving directors. We aim to advance women’s representation at the boardroom table.

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