Cultural diversity on boards needs to be more than just a box-ticking exercise

Spotlight on Cultural Diversity - Florence Mauwa in conversation with Sara Pantaleo


Florence Mauwa, GAICD, FCCA, MCIPD

General Manager, People and Transformation, Telstra
Trust Member, Queen Victoria Women’s Centre
Non Executive Director, African Music and Cultural Festival
Non Executive Director, AMES Australia

ZIMBABWEAN-born HR leader, and experienced board director Florence Mauwa, says her rich cultural heritage - coupled with her passion for helping marginalised and underrepresented communities - has been a positive influence on her board journey.
Speaking to Women on Boards Cultural Diversity Committee member, and “proud Italian migrant woman”, Sara Pantaleo for the first of WOB’s Spotlight on Cultural Diversity video series featuring culturally diverse women and allies, Florence said while she acknowledges that there is some discrimination when it comes to board selections, in her own experience her Zimbabwean background has worked in her favour.
“I tend to apply to boards which represent marginalised or under-represented communities or work in those sorts of sectors and so for me, my cultural heritage has been viewed positively because those boards tend to celebrate diversity and value difference of opinion on the board table anyway because of the nature of the work that they do,” she tells Sara.
“The cultural diversity I found in some cases has been sought out by those boards, and I know there's a couple of boards that I have probably got on because I was a black woman. But I do acknowledge the fact that, particularly now as I start to think about my board career
and starting to branch out into more commercial and listed boards, that I do anticipate that that might not necessarily be the case.”
She said for all women, the key is to choose boards that you are passionate about, and look at the expertise you can bring to the table, so you stand out when applying.

“We cannot run away from the fact that there some discrimination might happen in terms of board selection, but at the same time, I do think that people need to get over that, in terms of positioning themselves in the best possible way to be able to stand out when they go out for these board roles.

“The starting point is, go for board roles that you're passionate about, go for board roles where it is clear what expertise and value you are bringing to those boards. Because when you come from that position of passion and of expertise it is then very clear as you sit in front of that
interview panel what you are bringing.”
Florence said she does think cultural diversity on boards needs to be more than just a box-ticking exercise.

“I'd like to think there will continue to be space for diversity of experience, but at the same time, I think there's that balance of also then just not being seen as the token person who's coming to tick the box for diversity.”

She said when looking at which boards to apply for, it is also important to think about the size and scope of the boards you are setting yourself up for. “Look at the expertise that you're bringing. Look at what you are bringing to the table in terms of your board value, and then position yourself for boards of similar size and scale.”

Florence also stressed the importance of continuous learning, for all board members.
“A lot of people tend to get onto boards for a significantly long period of time and the learning for some reason stops. But the governance landscape is continuously changing, so constantly go out there, learn new things, and that will only put you in a better position for when you put your hand up for a board.

Florence’s key tips

  1. Position yourself in the best possible way to stand.  Apply for board roles that you're passionate about, where it is clear what expertise and value you are bringing to the board.

  2. Think about the size and scope of the boards you are setting yourself up for. Look at the expertise that you're bringing in terms of your board value, and then position yourself for boards of similar size and scale.”

  3. Engage in continuous learning because the governance landscape is continuously changed.

About Florence Mauwa

Florence Mauwa is an HR management professional with Telstra and chartered accountant who has worked across a variety of industries in Australia and across various emerging markets in the Middle East and Africa. She currently serves on three boards; Aims Australia, The Queen Victoria Women's Centre Trust and the African Music and Cultural Festival. Early this year, she stepped down from the board of Refuge Victoria after five years. Prior to that she had been on the board of Kew Neighbourhood Learning Centre and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants Australia New Zealand.

About Sara Pantaleo

Founder, Affari SP | NED & Chair

Sara was born in Italy and migrated to Australia at the age of 11. She is a business woman passionate about diversity and has always loved working and mentoring people. In 1996 she joined La Porchetta and took a major shift from the corporate environment into small family business. She initially joined as Distribution and Administration Manager and was appointed as CEO in 2005 and as a Director in 2010. She was instrumental in driving La Porchetta’s growth to become the largest, licensed, a-la-carte restaurant franchise in Australasia today. She achieved this by building corporate systems and process that enabled the company to expand without compromising its core family values and culture. Sara is passionate about franchising as a business model. She has been a member of the FCA National Board and served as Vice-President of the Victorian chapter of the FCA. She is also a Non-Executive Director of the Family Business Australia National Board. A former National Franchise Woman of the Year (2010), Sara is also a Telstra Businesswoman of the Year Victorian finalist (2012).

About WOB’s Cultural Diversity Committee

Women on Boards established a Cultural Diversity Committee with the aim of addressing barriers to opportunity and access to leadership and board & committee roles for culturally diverse women in Australia. The idea for the group was formed out of discussions about the lack of diversity in Australian leadership.