Board diversity statistics show just 28.4% of ASX 200 board positions in Australia are occupied by women – but there is significant work being done to level the playing field. Two women championing women leaders – and developing corporate programs to help them achieve greater success – are Melissa Lewis, CEO and Founder of The Ascension Group and Philippa Taylor, CEO and Founder of The Ducendi Group. Here, the two women share some insights that can help women in business to improve their executive presence, and access and thrive in board roles.
Making the transition
As Philippa explains, one of the greatest challenges of transitioning from an executive position to a board-level position can be changing the way you view your skills and expertise. “What is relevant for an operational role is different at a governance level,” she says. “To participate on a Board, you don’t need to know everything, but you should be clear about your own personal strengths and the value you could bring to that board room.”
Good communication skills are also key. “Success at Board level isn’t solely about the substance you bring to the table,” Philippa says. “It’s also about being a skilled listener, being curious and asking the right questions as well as knowing when to share your wisdom and unique insights in an appropriate way, to influence discussions,” she says.
Putting in the preparation
“This is more than simply knowing your numbers, it means you’ve thought about what the numbers are saying and why it’s relevant to the audience,” Melissa says.
For the expert, it also means considering some of the questions and/or concerns that may be raised, and being confident you can address them with additional information or supporting evidence. “Great preparation allows you to take your audience on the journey you need them to take in order for them to make an informed decision, regardless of the outcome,” she says.
Understanding due diligence
Board members play a vital role in establishing and maintaining the standard of a company's corporate governance – and Philippa says growing social and shareholder expectations about the responsibilities of boards may lead to additional governance requirements in future.
“It’s important for board directors to be clear about the formal responsibilities and potential liabilities dictated by various laws and regulatory bodies, because there can be significant implications to the organisation and individual directors if you get this wrong,” Philippa says. “It’s not appropriate to rely solely on the executive team to direct and manage the governance requirements and keep you on track; it’s something every director and potential director needs to be clear about,” she says.
ASIC’s Corporate Governance Regulatory Resource can be a helpful resource that sets out ASIC's view on various aspects of corporate governance, including any regulatory guidance they have issued.
Working with a mentor
If you are new to a particular board, Melissa and Philippa recommend peer-to-peer mentoring with a fellow board member to enhance your self-awareness and appreciation of the workings of the board.
“Mentors in more senior roles can give you guidance from years of experience, as well as help you understand the nuances that may be at play with the dynamics,” Melissa adds. “We’re also big advocates for women getting sponsors who will help elevate them into networks and opportunities they may not be able to access from where they are today,” she says.
Supporting your development
Melissa and Philippa agree that education is key to helping women not only access, but thrive in board positions. “We wouldn’t have achieved our own success without the help of many different formal and informal learning and development opportunities,” Melissa says. “We’re passionate about education and mentoring, as both can provide knowledge and insights you may not discover on your own that can allow you to short-cut your development.”
 Source: Financy Women’s Index End of Year Report: September 2018 – December 2018