Lessons from Life on Corporate Boards

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In the week we celebrate International Women's Day, IWF UK members gathered to hear a panel of wise and witty women non-executive directors speak about their experiences on a wide variety of commercial boards.

The panellists – IWF UK members Anne Minto OBE and Marty Wikstrom, and external speakers Moni Mannings and Mary Ann Sieghart – talked about the diverse routes they had taken to the boardroom and gave many helpful tips to aspiring directors. Denise Jagger, partner at Eversheds Sutherland law firm, kindly hosted and expertly moderated the 5 March discussion, which was attended by about 40 members and guests.

The evening opened with the latest boardroom figures from Susan Vinnicombe CBE, IWF UK board director and Cranfield University professor. She said that, while the number of women on FTSE boards has risen sharply in the past 10 years, most senior board roles are still held by men. Only 8% of women NEDs are Chairs or Senior Independent Directors, while 34% of men NEDS hold such roles. She recommended that when women arrive on a board they signal their interest in chairing a committee.

The panel cited useful resources for aspiring directors including: specialist headhunter Sapphire Partners, founded and run by IWF UK’s Kate Grussing; recruitment platform Nurole; Women on Boards; and the Bird & Co Glass Ladder Programme.

The excellent tips from the panel for obtaining board roles, and flourishing in them, included:

  • It can take about 3 years to get your first NED role
  • Your professional network will be one of the most valuable conduits
  • A mentor can assist with roles, contacts and confidence building
  • It’s a new career – don’t assume what you have done will translate
  • Not for profit boards can be a valuable first step
  • Financial literacy is a pre-requisite for FTSE boards – undertake training if needed
  • Relationship management and influencing are the most important skills
  • If you’re a generalist, summarise the attributes you bring to a board
  • Tell people what you’re looking for – it’s extraordinary how opportunities come up
  • Be very clear about sectors you’re excluding from your search, and stick to that
  • Find a Chair you respect and can work with
  • Don’t rush in. Do due diligence. Can you work with them, and can you have fun?
  • Expect a lot of hard work for relatively modest compensation
  • Join the Nominations Committee to influence future Board appointments

This was the last in our popular 3-part 'Life on Boards' series. Julie Goldstein, IWF UK Chair, closed the event by thanking the host and panellists and the steering committee – Sally Davies, Susan Vinnicombe CBE and Alison Maitland – for their contributions. Ideas for further events were discussed during lively networking afterwards.

Alison Maitland

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