How to be an effective board director and other lessons from the She Leads Board Governance Workshop

5 September 2017

Jessica Abramovic

Jessica is the Communications and Events Coordinator at YWCA Canberra.

On Tuesday 29 August, She Leads hosted 30 women for our Board Governance Workshop, facilitated by YWCA Canberra board directors, Caitlin Sandercock and Carina Zeccola.

The Board Governance Workshop taught practical skills required by board directors. On top of this, it gave an overview of boards and aimed to provide the women who attended with the confidence to join a board.

The women in the workshop were all from highly diverse backgrounds, representing what may be an exciting step forward for potential boards in the future. While boards are generally made up of middle-aged white people, this cohort was highly diverse in age, ethnicity, and religion. The group also had highly diverse experiences and aspirations; while some women already served on boards, others were interested in learning what pathways existed to one day become board directors.

The workshop covered a series of topics that aimed to provide a full overview of the expectations and responsibilities required of board director. Overall, attendees learnt:

  • The various types of board models
  • How boards operate
  • The legal and fiduciary responsibilities involved
  • The difference between strategic and operational matters
  • What makes a good board director
  • Things to consider before joining a board.

This workshop was the four out of the six workshops YWCA Canberra runs each year, as part of its larger strategic goal to offer affordable classes in order to increase the number of women at decision making levels.

As of 31 July 2017, there are still 12 boards in the ASX 200 without any women board directors, and overall, women only constitute 25.5 per cent of all ASX 200 board directors.

In the workshop, Caitlin and Carina both spoke about the importance of having women on boards. They stated that women offer diversity to boards, which then creates diversity at the decision-making level. This has real-life effects for not only the staff members of the organisation, but also the wider community.

Diversity at this level is also important for the organisation itself. When a board is able to view each problem or opportunity with different skill sets and life experiences, the board is more likely to make the best decision for the organisation.

Carina spoke at length of the legal and fiduciary responsibilities of a board director. Carina stated that regardless of your office barer position, every board member is accountable for every decision and every action of the board as a whole. Board directors must question information provided to them, even if it is supplied by another board director.

The key, Caitlin said, is to question everything and demand transparency and accountability.

Further responsibilities of a board director include ensuring that the reputation of the organisation is upheld at all times. As a board director, you are the face of the organisation, and you must act professionally in public. This extends to strategic decisions made by the board, particularly if the decisions are not made unanimously.

Before joining a board, it is important to consider the number of hours and effort a board director must put in to be effective. Caitlin estimates that on an average week she spends ten hours undertaking board director duties, which includes reading board papers, undertaking strategic research, attending events, having an active presence on social media, and networking.

When deciding if a board director position is right for you, consider the following:

  • How can your skills benefit the organisation?
  • What is your point of differentiation from the other board directors?
  • Does the organisations constitution align with your own values?
  • Is the organisation sustainable?
  • Do you understand the board model the organisation utilises?
  • Are you willing to be assertive and diligent to ensure transparency and accountability?
  • Do you have any perceived or actual conflicts of interest?
  • Do you have the time and willingness to work for ten hours a week as a volunteer?

Caitlin and Carina led a highly successful workshop, as rated by the attendees. 100 per cent of attendees rated the workshop as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, 82 per cent agree that they have gained practical leadership skills that they can apply, and 82 per cent also agree that they are more motivated to pursue their leadership goals.

We hope that all attendees left feeling inspired to become the next women at decision making levels.

Find out about future She Leads Workshops here, and ignite your leadership journey. Also be sure follow She Leads on Facebook and Twitter for more on women’s leadership.

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