By: Mary-Sue Rogers, WOB Non-Executive-Director
I have recently been to several networking events that focused on “how do I get on to a board as a non-executive”
? The supply of individuals, with significant experience and qualifications, outstrips the demand for non-executive directors (NED) especially at the listed company end of the market. And the challenge for talented women to get appointed to an ASX board is even more of an uphill battle. There are still 13 ASX 200 companies that have no women on their boards and over 60 that have only one and less than ten where the chair is female. This makes it all the more challenging to secure an ASX NED appointment.
This is my top summary of the lessons learned and things you can do to help improve your chances of appointment to a NED position for a listed organisation.
- One of the best paths to get to a NED role is via a C-Suite role. If you are a CEO, CFO or similar, especially on a listed company, you have a much better chance of getting a NED position. You are already part of the club and a known entity regarding performance, behaviour and culture at the executive board level.
- Network, network, network, and the best networking activities are ones where you will meet members of boards, especially chair people. There were several stories told at the events describing how an individual got shortlisted on a board and almost all of them involved being recommended by someone on the board.
- Chairpeople of listed companies are a “network” of their own, and they are aware when board positions are coming up, or vacancies exist within the network. This is one of the reasons why once you get a board position it becomes easier to get asked to consider another board. The chair people talk and ask each other “who do you know….”?
- Recruiters are the least efficient route. Sorry to any recruiters reading this but across the individual women who had been appointed to a board none of them had gotten the position through a recruiter. In fact, there were examples where the recruiters were aware of the candidate, did not shortlist them for the role, and at the end of the day, they were appointed because – see point 2.
- Target which board you want and then build a pitch for selling you to that board. Call up the chairperson or another member of that board and give them the pitch. It might not come to anything but – see point 2 and 3. If they liked what they heard, the next time someone asks them “who do you know?” they will be aware of you, what you want to do and how you add value.
- The competencies, skills and experience of what they think they want from a new board member will change after they talk to people. You thought you were the perfect match to their specification and then they changed the spec.
- Make sure you have good financial literacy.
- Start with a smaller board including not for profits. Unless you are a CEO of a listed company the chances of getting on an ASX board, as your first board, is almost impossible.
- Don’t expect communication back regarding the status of your interest or application. The “applicant management” portion of the board recruitment process is very poor. Speaking from personal experience – you are lucky to get any communication other than “we received your CV”. In many cases, you don’t even know if they filled the role or are still looking.
The most important messages from the various sessions were: -
- Make sure you want to be a NED. There are many other ways you can add value to an organisation. Be an advisor or coach or sit on a subcommittee. Before you start the journey make sure you want to get to the destination.
- Have patience – especially if you are looking for an ASX role. If you do the maths – across the 200 ASX companies, there is an average of 7 board positions per company. The average term is three years, and unless something happens, a NED tends to stay at least 2-3 terms (so 6-9 years). There are approximately 1,400 NED positions available in the ASX 200 where perhaps 200-300 might come up for appointment per year. Of that 200-300 many will never get out of the “I know someone…” process. Patience and being ready for when you get an opportunity is vital.
- And to be ready, you need a board CV (not an executive CV), in-depth research on the organisation, support from your network to help make connections and clear articulation on how you are going to add value to that specific board.
Various organisations can help you with your journey to a NED position. Women on Boards is an excellent choice to give you the support you want or need to be ready when that call comes.