July 2014: Women for the Board – a taster

Westminster Business School’s innovative new programme for women seeking Board positions has really hit the spot. The first cohort has just completed, with many participants securing new Board positions and is recruiting now for next year.


I was delighted when the Dr. Ruth Saks, the Programme’s Founder and Director asked me to run a session on Making a difference, ethics and corporate social responsibility.

I drew up some hypothetical scenarios. There were no ‘right answers’ but we had a really stimulating discussion and developed some sound principles.  The key word that came up was trust.  At a time when public confidence in institutions is really low, we agreed on the importance of anticipating how the citizen or customer might view things. Here is a taster:

You are the new Chair of the Governance Committee and the CSR policy falls under your remit, your company hosted its annual gala dinner just before you took over and you are asked to deal with this complaint:

‘We were so delighted to be invited to be the named chosen charity at your lavish fundraising event 3 months ago. Your marketing officer said that we would receive at least £30,000, which we have already earmarked to pay for a specially adapted vehicle.  You can imagine our shock when we received a cheque for £6,395.04. When will we be receiving the remainder, the vehicle arrives on Monday?’

You are approached by a group of women staff complaining about the bullying behaviours of a senior director of the organisation.  They say they have raised it with the CE to no avail but they will not go on record.

Your company is devising a new five-year strategy and you are very keen to ensure that environmental sustainability gets more prominence, as are some of your international partners. You recognize that aware that a coherent shift will have an up front cost, the UK Finance Director clearly thinks this is ‘ fluff’.

Of course some of us have more experience of reporting to Boards and can get frustrated when roles and relationships do not play out as planned.  So we had some scenarios from Executives reporting the Board:

Your staff complain to you that a particular Board Member is wandering into the organisation ‘s offices and giving instructions, seemingly at will.

Some of your Board Members want to do in depth site visits but you are finding this very expensive to resource and you thought their role was to be strategic not operational.

Scanning over the various Board roles I have played in my career I am sure that the stage with the most learning attached was when I switched sides, becoming a non- executive working out how to relate best to officials who, in turn, were unsure about how to cope with a new Board.  As with all learning, it helps to understand the experience from the other side of the table.

So, whichever side of the fence, have a good look at the Women for the Board Programme. There will doubtless be plenty more scenarios to explore by then.


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