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10 Things We Learned About Building a Healthy Company Board

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Although it needs to happen at a greater scale, women are increasingly creating or joining company boards, whether they are founders building their own startup boards, or executives or non-executives joining established businesses. Little debate, however, focuses on how women or indeed men can prepare themselves to build and lead, or join and contribute, to an effective board that both helps drive a business and creates a challenging, fulfilling experience for its directors. The latest 10 Digital Ladies event tackled this subject and more in ‘Healthy boards for healthy directors; Creating the perfect company board for you’ on November 8th 2018. This event was hosted by Nina Lovelace, cofounder of 10 Digital Ladies, with the panel discussion being led by our Inspiring Board Member Award winner Celia Francis.

Celia is a proven pioneer with over two decades of experience leading innovative emerging technology companies. She has extensive experience working across strategy, investment, product development and marketing, and is now setting the direction for Rated People, an innovative online marketplace connecting trusted tradespeople to homeowners. Celia was joined by executive board coach and HR expert Carrie Birmingham.

10 Digital Ladies and the expert panel tried to uncover the issues in this session and here are ten things that we learned. A big thanks to both Celia and Carrie for their honest and constructive advice.
  1. Boards can look very different within organisations of different sizes. Startups might not call them boards, but they are people that come together to make the strategic decisions to run a business. More rigour is required for more established businesses, however. Celia explains, ’Boards are ultimately responsible to the investors and shareholders and are there to also offer governance and strategy.’
  1. To run an effective board, it’s important to spend time focusing on the important topics and not getting caught up in the little things. Bikeshedding, as it’s known, is spending disproportionate time and energy spent over an insignificant or unimportant detail of a larger concern. Carrie says, ‘Board agendas often try to tackle lots of things in one meeting, Be rigorous about trying to tackle too much in a small space of time.’
  1. For a board meeting to be effective it’s important to have certain recurring topics and review what is driving the business results. Celia says, ‘We cover topics such as the CEO report, CFO report and finance review including budgets and KPIs.’ The best boards often do pre-meeting prep to ensure time is maximised for quality decision making.
  1. A good preparation for board life to to get invited to attend a board meeting as an expertise in your field or department, to present on a topic or project. However, it’s important to understand what is expected from you before you go in. Carrie suggests, ’It’s important to talk to someone who has experience in presenting to the board. Make sure you are prepared, get good at presenting your ideas quickly and prepare yourself for challenging questions.’
  1. Having the right skills and vision are both important to cementing your seat on a board. Carrie says, ‘Ensure you have functional expertise and develop the skills to have conversations in that environment.” She also adds, “Also, what is it that you want to achieve? Have a purpose. Getting on the boards, is not the means to an end.”
  1. You also need to be able to positively challenge others, if you are to achieve either executive or non-executive positions. Boards want someone to ask challenging questions to help them make better decisions. You also need to be able to think strategically, not getting drawn to solving the operational problems of the business, says Celia. You need to be able to challenge and be open to challenge.
  1. Joining charity boards as non-execs or trustees can be good training ground for executive or non-exec board life. For corporate boards you are still expected to have deep areas of knowledge and expertise at running departments and managing teams, the panellists agreed. There is no shortcut.
  1. However, if you want to become a board member don’t be afraid to let people know. Own your career trajectory. Celia adds, “Let everyone know what it is you want, and have the skill set and experience to back it up.”
  1. Who to tell, however? Networking plays an important role in securing a role on the board. Celia says “You need to be friends with and network with venture capitalists – they have access to board roles.” It’s also important to have a strong network of peers you trust around you when you are running a board, to let off steam with.
  1. There is evidence that more boards want women on them as executive or non-executives, but can struggle to find women to take up those roles. Celia and her immediate peer network get regular calls to join new boards but often have to turn them down due to lack of time. Perhaps VCs and other headhunters aren’t aware of the full network of women able to take up these roles or where to find them?

We’d also like to say a special thank you to Claire Davenport, CEO of Hello Fresh, for her excellent expertise and interaction during the event.

We hope that helps if you missed this illuminating event! To summarise our learning, to secure a position on a board it’s important to have the right specialist skills, target the right level of board for your abilities, be able to challenge others constructively, do it for the right reasons – and have a strong network to access the opportunities in the first place. What’s stopping you!

The event was kindly hosted at the amazing Rated People offices in Blackfriars and supported by the brilliant people from Bright Innovation, 10 Digital Ladies’ fabulous marketing partners. It was a great event, we’d like to thank the panellist and everyone who attended, and we can’t wait for the next event on 22 November on Managing Work/Life Blend, sign up now.

Remember, if you have any thoughts on Healthy boards for healthy directors and would like to share them with us please comment below or join us on Twitter or Instagram. As always, we encourage our community to offer ideas for our next 10 Digital Ladies book! If you still haven’t got your copy of our first book, Career Hacks, you can register for a copy here:

Nina Lovelace10 Things We Learned About Building a Healthy Company Board

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