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Getting women on boards: Female NEDs give their advice
Effective non-executive directors (NEDs) are able to constructively challenge the status quo of an organisation – they bring the outside in and offer fresh perspectives on business challenges. For this reason, NEDs are a vital component of any board of directors – and talented operators are always in demand. Of course, it’s important to remember that diversity of thinking can only come from a diverse group of people – and the spotlight has recently been turned on this from a gender perspective.
As the drive for gender parity at senior levels continues, it is positive to see that despite the slight fall in women in executive roles, the number of women in non-executive roles within FTSE 100 companies has risen, from 27.7% in October 2017 to 29% in June 2018.
To gain further insight into how the role works and how to attain this sort of position, we spoke to a number of senior female business leaders and non-executive directors at our fourth Page Executive Women in Business event in Birmingham recently. Angela Seymour-Jackson, a highly experienced portfolio NED, mentioned that taking on the role helped her to take a different approach in her work. She stated: “You don’t know the assumptions you work with until they’re challenged.” However, once a NED is aware of those constraints, they can begin to move away from them and bring new practices to their business.
A NED should provide creative input, challenge decisions and offer objective insight, and critique. However, it is not the role of the NED to make the decisions. It’s better for them to focus their efforts on the topics most relevant to their expertise. Typically, executive directors know the ins and outs of a business. It’s the NED’s job to maintain a level of distance and be able to offer impartial advice.
Jane Whitlock, Midlands Practice Senior Partner in Assurance and Advisory at Deloitte, explained: “We’re operating in an ever-changing world. New risks seem to emerge on a very regular basis and being able to interpret those in the context of the business that you’re working with is really important.”
Why you should consider becoming a NED
As part of a board of directors, a NED will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in different working practices. Fundamentally, all businesses face similar challenges, but the response to these can often be dictated by the industry that the business operates in, or the experience of its leadership team. For example, a NED who works in the telecoms industry may sit on the board of an aviation company alongside a fellow NED from a finance sector background. In this hypothetical example alone, the opportunity for new approaches to emerge is clearly vast – and there is no reason that the NED cannot invoke these in their day-to-day work, benefitting their employer.
Lesley Jackson, current Interim CFO at Water Plus and Non-Executive Director at Trackwise Designs PLC, had this to say about why women might consider a NED position: “What is really attractive about a NED role is your ability to bring the full force of your experience to the benefit of the organisation. It affords you the luxury of spending some time reflecting on the business, on the strategy, on the direction they are going in. And you’re there to provide support to the executive management team.”
As a benefit of the role, NEDs create a broad network of esteemed colleagues from a range of industries and backgrounds. These connections are invaluable, not only for identifying further NED roles, but also for career progression.
NED status also creates the potential to explore new career paths, guided by practical experience, rather than skill sets or ‘on paper’ potential. When this is combined with an ever-growing network of business connections, the long-term career benefits of becoming a NED significantly add to the appeal of the role.
Have you got what it takes to become a NED?
When it comes to the core skills needed to become a NED, Angela believes stakeholder management is absolutely crucial. “An effective board needs everyone to be able to work together. So, the ability to work closely with other non-executive directors but really critically the CEO and CFO,” she explained.
Lesley concurred, adding: “I think you have to be open-minded, I think you have to be a good listener, but you also have to be there to challenge and ask the right questions.”
When an executive board is looking to appoint a non-executive director, there are a number of factors that organisations search for:
- A point of difference such as an emerging skill set or knowledge of a particular topic that would be of benefit to the business.
- Genuine interest in the company or industry in which the business operates.
- A complementary style and attitude to how the board operates.
- Personality fit, considering how an individual positions themselves in the boardroom, how they ask questions, and how well they gel with different people.
Chair of St Modwen Properties PLC and seasoned Non-Executive Director, Danuta Gray, believes that the core of a NED’s role is getting the execs to sit back and think about the longer-term perspective. “What could take this plan off track? What’s happening in terms of the political environment, what’s happening with technology and who could come along, and disrupt our business model? Good non-executives will help position these questions in a way that makes the execs stop and think,” she concluded.
If you would like to discuss how we can help source the right talent to your non-executive board of directors, or for more information about our events, please get in touch for a confidential discussion.
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