Truth-seeking missile Lelde Smits on finding a sense of belonging

July 2021

Currently the youngest female Director of the Australian Shareholders Association, Lelde Smits is ranked as one of Australia's Top 100 entrepreneurs.

Lelde says her passion for truth seeking, value hunting and storytelling has fuelled her career as a journalist, presenter, co-founder and Executive Director of The Capital Network and advisor to listed companies and executives.

Over the last decade she has reported breaking news of thousands of listed companies and interviewed hundreds of executives and investors around the world. Foundations built in the newsroom provided a powerful platform to work with and for the Australian Securities Exchange, New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.

Her experience as a global finance journalist has evolved to encompass presenting and hosting, media training and investor relations consulting.

What boards and committees do you currently sit on?
I am currently the youngest female Director of the Australian Shareholders Association and this is my first board position.

What are the areas of expertise you feel you bring to the board?
The strongest areas of expertise I believe I bring to boards includes a deep understanding of ASX-listed companies and governance, investor, media and public relations strategy, social and digital media marketing skills and leadership, management and strategy expertise.

I have dedicated my professional voluntary service to providing independent thought leadership and service to the investment community through professional, informative and educational investor content and work to foster economic empowerment.

I am a passionate advocate for financial equality and hope my extensive experience and service enable me to make a valuable contribution to the boards on which I serve.

When and why did you decide to pursue a board career?
My passion to contribute meaningfully and professionally in a voluntary capacity drove my desire to look for a voluntary board position.

I was raised in a home with a strong focus on serving the community. The values I was taught at home and through school emphasised the importance of giving and so the desire to contribute and make a positive difference has been a constant in my life.

While I did not have exposure to board members in my youth, I was surrounded by people who actively volunteered in the community. As soon as I was old enough in my early 20s I traveled overseas to work for many months as a volunteer in African and Asian impoverished communities.

Though volunteer community development was rewarding, I also saw firsthand the power that skills and experience have on the ability to give and make a difference. By the time I was in my 30s I felt I had enough meaningful professional skills and experience to be of value to a board. 
What challenges and hurdles have you had to overcome in pursuing your board career?
As I am a relatively new board member, challenges have been limited as I have only been in the role for a handful of months. Overall I have been encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive welcome I received from the organisation and congratulatory response from the community.

Some who don't know me very well questioned why I would want to contribute: if I'm too young, if I'll fit in and if I am suitably prepared. I suspect these questions are a result of the existing age and gender stereotype attached to the traditional "board member".

I hope my contribution provides not only value to the board, organisation and community, but acts as a reminder of the importance of board diversity and the inclusion of all voices, ages and genders that did not have equal representation in the past.

The world and the finance industry are changing and the foundations for gender and economic equality have been laid. It is important for all women to know they belong in leadership, they belong on boards, and they belong where all decisions are made.
What do you most enjoy about being on a board?
As my board role with Australian Shareholders Association is in a voluntary capacity for a member driven organisation, I love the pure passion that unites all board members and the organisation they serve.

The Australian Shareholders Association is Australia's largest, independent, not-for-profit individual investor association. This holds a lot of responsibility to continue the legacy established in 1960 to educate investors and stand up for shareholder rights.

As a member driven organisation everyone is united by the organisations' values and working to do the best for Australian shareholders through education and advocacy. I share these passions and it is incredibly rewarding to work with like-minded professionals to achieve this mission.

What inspires you professionally?
I have taken inspiration from women leaders around me who contribute in a professional and voluntary capacity. I have also been encouraged by the amount of female and male professionals I work with who have discussed their own personal experience and pathways to board roles and made helpful suggestions for my own path.

Working with listed companies and listed company boards for the entirety of my career has aided me to see the opportunities and challenges that exist for board members and companies in addition to the barriers to entry. I hope that more people, including myself, can act as mentors and sponsors to support others in future.

How has WOB helped you on your board journey?
Women on Boards (WOB) has played a key role in my board journey, from sowing the first thought, to advertising the first role I secured and supporting me throughout the journey.

Soon after finishing my Masters of Journalism at University of Technology Sydney a friend of mine asked me to attend a WOB information evening at the Sheraton Hyde Park in Sydney one chilly winter evening in the middle of the week.

I clearly remember WOB Executive Chair Ruth Medd addressing the room of women, outlining her experience and highlighting the importance of supporting women to access board positions. At that stage I had minimal professional experience but signed up to the newsletter and read all WOB developments for the following decade, or more… Without any specific mentor or sponsor, it was really WOB’s ongoing communication that encouraged me to consider board roles more seriously.

Almost 15 years after that first meeting at the Sheraton I had built a significant track record of working with listed companies around the world and signed up as a paying member of WOB. Within the first few months a board position was advertised that immediately struck me for it aligned with values and vision for economic equality and empowerment. Drawing support from WOB’s online resources I compiled my first board application, applied for my first board role and was accepted on my first board role.

I wrote to Ruth almost immediately after being accepted and thanked her for the intrinsic role WOB played in this journey. Had I not gone to that first information evening, or followed communications for more than 10 years I’m not sure I ever would have had the idea that boards have a place for me, nor the confidence or ability to apply. WOB’s major role in my own journey has inspired me even more to support WOB and act as a role model to other young women to inspire others to consider and work for board roles from an early age.  
Any words of advice for other women starting out on their board journey? 
My biggest message for women starting out on their board journey is, “you belong here”

As I have always worked in the finance industry I have become used to being in the minority and always grappling with thoughts and feelings that I don’t belong. When you only see one reality it is hard to imagine another.

Yet, the world and the finance industry are changing and the foundations for gender and economic equality have been laid. It is important for all women to know they belong in leadership, they belong on boards, and they belong where all decisions are made.

Through every individuals' contribution the collective consciousness evolves. I hope that we can continue to all support one another to support more women on boards and I sincerely thank all those who have supported me on the journey to my first board role.  
Tell us something people may not know about you
Many people are surprised to know I have a Latvian heritage. While my parents were born in Australia, all four of my grandparents are Latvian, it was the first language I spoke and is where my name came from (pronounced Lel-da), originating from a Latvian playwright who created the name in 1915.
Lelde Smits
Director, Australian Shareholders Association
Co-founder and Executive Director, The Capital Network