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Diversifying boards—Your cultural advantage
A guide to pursuing a board role

Minister’s foreword

Cultural diversity is one of Western Australia’s great assets.

Around one-third of Western Australians were born overseas. Almost one-fifth (17 per cent) were born in a non-main English speaking country. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent 3.1 per cent of Western Australia’s population.

Western Australia’s economy is becoming increasingly connected to those of countries around the world. Our cultural diversity offers the opportunity to forge these links and connections through people-to-people networks, cultural knowledge and language skills.

Research highlights that people from diverse cultural backgrounds—and with a range of skills—stimulate new ideas, higher rates of innovation and creativity, business formation, job generation and economic growth.

Just as organisations are realising the benefits of a culturally diverse workforce, there is a growing awareness of the benefits cultural and linguistic diversity can bring to boards and committees. For a board to be effective, members collectively need to have knowledge, skills, attributes and networks relevant to its business. Cultural and linguistic background adds an important element to the mix.

Diversifying boards—your cultural advantage is a guide to how you can contribute to boards and committees by adding your unique cultural and linguistic perspective, together with your knowledge, skills and experience.

It provides information about the functions of boards, how to make yourself attractive for board selection and the benefits this can bring to individuals, organisations and society.

I encourage you to take inspiration from this guide and use the information and insights to add your voice to those who shape our lives and our future.

Acknowledgements

This guide is adapted from the 2014 publication ‘Being Board Ready: A Guide for Women’ produced by the Department of Local Government and Communities Office for Women.

The Office of Multicultural Interests also acknowledges the New Zealand Ministry of Women’s Affairs ‘All About Boards’ website on which ‘Being Board Ready’ was based.

Special thanks are extended to Lily Chen, Tony Chong, Dr Asem Mousa, Pearl Proud, Maria Saraceni, Rasa Subramaniam, Dr Aesen Thambiran, Fadzi Whande and Dr Bernadette Wright who generously shared their stories for the case studies.

Introduction

Have you ever thought about being a member of a board or committee?

Board membership offers an opportunity to develop personal and professional skills, contribute to the community, set the direction for organisations whose work you value and be a role model for others.

This guide can help you assess your boardreadiness and learn about how to pursue a board role.

Just like looking for a job, there are basic things to consider when working towards a board role. Board membership requires certain attributes, skills and commitment.

A person’s cultural and linguistic background is an attribute that is not always promoted by the individual or recognised for the benefits it can bring to the functioning of a board.

The guide includes information about boards and what being a board member involves. It also includes case studies of people from a wide variety of backgrounds who have become members of different types of boards. Some were born in Australia of migrant parents. Most came to Australia as migrants. They represent countries and cultures from across the world.

The guide also includes resources that you can access to help you on your journey to board membership. Information and networks are available to support you.

Section 1—The benefits

Why cultural diversity matters in the boardroom

In Australia and around the world, with increasing and changing patterns of migration, globalisation and technological change, businesses are becoming increasingly complex. There is a growing awareness of the need to broaden the composition and breadth of perspective of executive boards and committees for them to remain relevant and effective. Research shows that:

  • diversity increases effectiveness and competitiveness in a globalised environment
  • leveraging cultural diversity benefits business and services by developing appropriate products and/or services and responding to new markets and/or emerging needs or communities
  • diverse talents, experiences, competencies and knowledge enhance organisational effectiveness and financial performance
  • diversity is essential for boards to navigate the complex and dynamic issues that public and private agencies, including the not-for-profit sector, now face
  • diversity and inclusion lead to better risk management, more innovation and stronger connections with customers, employees and business partners.

One report found that, for companies in the top quartile of executive board diversity, return on equity was 53 per cent more and earnings were 14 per cent higher on average than they were for companies on the bottom quartiles.

Diversity is also important for good corporate governance:

  • multiple views on the possible outcomes of actions enhances the decision-making process as this allows wider identification and consideration of various risks, consequences and implications
  • a diverse board offers greater capacity to anticipate and consider the concerns and perspectives of all key constituencies
  • a robust dialogue of differing views allows a company to keep pace with changing dynamics both internally and externally.[1]

However, a 2013 report by Diversity Council Australia, Capitalising on Culture: A Study of the Cultural Origins of ASX 200 Business Leaders found that, among the board directors of ASX200 companies:

  • 22.2 per cent of directors are ‘culturally diverse’ compared to 32.2 per cent in the general Australian community
  • when a narrower definition of ‘culturally diverse’ is adopted (excluding people from North West European cultural origins), the proportion of culturally diverse directors falls to 11.3 per cent, compared with 24.3 per cent in the general community
  • most culturally diverse directors have North West European cultural origins (10.9 per cent)
  • the proportion of business leaders with Asian cultural origins is relatively low compared with the general community, especially given the importance of the Asian region to Australia’s current and future economic growth—only 4.2 per cent of directors had Asian cultural origins compared with 9.6 per cent in the general community). [2]

In 2014 only one per cent—45 out of 4305 people—currently registered as members of public boards and committees in WA were from a CaLD background. [3]

Benefits for you

There are personal and professional benefits to gain from participating on boards or committees.

Personal benefits include:

  • satisfaction when you achieve goals, make a difference to people’s lives and help to achieve a better community
  • building your social skills such as cooperation and collaboration and developing relationships and networks
  • learning from other board members and executives
  • influencing and leading an organisation
  • increased confidence and communication skills
  • enhanced intrapersonal competence such as self-awareness and self-control
  • financial reward for positions that attract a sitting fee.

Benefits to you professionally can include:

  • enriching your résumé
  • developing knowledge and understanding of the public, community, corporate and business sectors
  • improving your future career prospects and widening your career opportunities by enabling you to develop valuable knowledge and skills, such as:
  • leadership and decision making, negotiation, influencing skills, conflict resolution, fund-raising, advocacy and networking
  • day-to-day management processes
  • current government standards and issues
  • compliance
  • accountable and transparent practices and procedures
  • specific areas of interest.

Benefits for the community

Your membership of a board can also have benefits for the community. You can:

  • be a role model by directly or indirectly influencing others to seek leadership roles
  • mentor or teach other members of the community by sharing knowledge and experiences
  • promote cultural exchange within an organisation and advocate for consideration of the issues, perspectives and needs of culturally diverse communities.

Challenges

There are also some challenges to consider. Taking on a board or committee role will require commitment, both in time and effort. Managing multiple responsibilities may require making compromises in your other work and life commitments. You may need to allocate time to:

  • attend meetings
  • prepare for meetings
  • carefully read minutes of meetings and other documents
  • check compliance standards.

Payment you may receive by joining a board could:

  • create conflicts of interest
  • affect other forms of income you have
  • not adequately compensate your time.

Board membership has other challenges, such as dealing with differences of opinion and conflicting views. Lack of clear performance measures or key performance indicators (KPIs) may be frustrating. Dealing with a dysfunctional board can be a challenge.

It is also important to be sure that you:

  • feel comfortable with the level of responsibility
  • are clear about your personal responsibilities
  • are aware of your legal responsibilities and are able to meet them.

Section 2—What are boards?

A board is the governing body of an organisation. Governing bodies can also be known by other names, such as committees and councils, however, they all perform similar roles. A board’s role is to provide purpose, leadership, direction and overall strategy for the organisation for which it is responsible and to oversee the performance and activities of management. Boards typically perform four main functions:

  • compliance—ensuring that operations are legal and procedures work
  • strategic direction—directing or setting the overall corporate strategy
  • performance management—ensuring competent and efficient management and that the finances of the organisation are sound
  • risk and crisis management—managing risks and crises to ensure the organisation’s long-term viability.

Types of boards

Most organisations operating within the private, not-for-profit and public sectors have some type of governance body. They can vary significantly in size, structure and function.

Not-for-profit sector

These boards support organisations that serve the community, or provide services to support the community.

They cover many different sectors including human and community services, sports and recreation, culture and the arts, and environment and heritage. They can be a good entry point for learning about governance. Appointments are usually endorsed by the membership at an annual general meeting or by election. Many not-for-profit boards are governed by legislation, particularly the Associations Incorporation Act 1987.

Public sector

As the stakeholders for these boards are generally taxpayers and Australian citizens, public sector boards are driven by considerations of the public interest.

Members are required to work within a legal framework.[4] These roles are often paid, but generally not paid to the same degree as large corporate boards. Appointments are usually made by Ministers or the Governor-General. Western Australian Government boards can be broadly grouped into the following types:[5]

  • Trading Enterprises: Boards of public trading enterprises engaged in commercial activities. In some cases these trading enterprises may be government owned, such as the Fremantle Port Authority, Gold Corporation, Electricity Networks Corporation (Western Power) and Busselton Water Board
  • Governing: Boards of statutory authorities that govern the operation of an agency, such as the Art Gallery of WA, WA Planning Commission and Botanical Parks and Gardens Authority
  • Policy or review or specialist: State level committees with a policy or coordination role, such as the Industry Management Committee and State Emergency Management Committee
  • Regulatory or registration or appeal: Boards with a regulatory or registration role, such as the Liquor Commission, Plumbers’ Licensing Board, Legal Practice Board of WA and Local Government Standards Panel
  • Stewardship: Boards that manage public assets or trusts, such as the Aboriginal Land Trust, Public Education Endowment Trust and Western Australian Local Government Grants Commission
  • Advisory or consultative: Boards and committees with an advisory or consultative role, such as the Geographic Names Committee and Pest Animal Control Ethics Advisory Committee. These boards do not have decision-making authority.

Private sector

The private sector is profit-driven. Governance roles with these organisations are usually paid. The sector covers a broad range of organisations from large corporations to small businesses. Board appointments are usually made by shareholders, but often led by existing directors. The appointment process is highly competitive. Operation of boards of private sector companies is governed by the Corporations Act 2001.

Relationship between boards and management

Broadly, governance involves “the systems and processes in place that shape, enable and oversee management of an organisation. Management is concerned with doing—with co-ordinating and managing the day-to-day operations of the business.”[6]

The relationship between boards and the management of an organisation will vary depending on factors such as the size of the organisation and funding arrangements. These are formally explained in the rules or by-laws of the organisation.

Large organisations usually have paid staff members who take care of day-to-day management matters. In these organisations, board members focus on high-level strategic issues and staff deal with operational matters. In small organisations with voluntary or part-time staff, board members may take on many or all staff responsibilities as well as their duties as board members.

The relationship between boards and management
BoardManagement and staff
Sets strategy and goals and authorises all major decisionsRecommend the strategic direction and translate these into operation
Approves the business plan, budget and corporate policiesManage physical, human and financial resources to achieve the organisation’s objectives
Monitors and assesses the performance of the organisation, management and major projects, agrees on KPIsCarry out day-to-day responsibility in conformity with relevant laws, regulations and compliance frameworks
Ensures the organisation’s long-term viability and sound finance, its compliance and accountability systemDevelop, implement and update policies and procedures, prepare budget, operate programs and organise events
Ensures effective communication with stakeholders and CEOAct as a conduit between the board and the organisation
Oversees and monitors risk management frameworksDevelop, implement and manage the organisation’s risk management framework

How boards work

Each board follows a set of rules and is guided in its operations by procedures. The rules and procedures will vary according to the type of organisation and the purpose of the board, but the rules will usually specify:

  • how the board is to be established
  • the boundaries and extent of the board’s powers
  • the number of members and length of their terms
  • procedures to appoint members and to fill vacancies (such as the qualities that the office holders on the board should have)
  • roles and responsibilities of office holders
  • procedures for removing board members
  • meeting requirements and procedures
  • guidelines for remuneration or reimbursement for expenses
  • expected conduct
  • conflict of interest considerations
  • frequency of meetings.

Board member responsibilities

Board members may also be called directors, committee members, councillors or trustees, depending on the type of governing body and the organisation it oversees. Responsibilities will vary and the board’s role should be clearly defined by the organisation and reviewed regularly. Board members are responsible for:

  • setting the strategic direction of the organisation, including the vision, objectives, and strategic and operational plans
  • approving key organisational policies
  • ensuring that the organisation has adequate funds, approving the budget and monitoring expenditure
  • appointing the chief executive officer and holding her/him accountable for implementing the strategic plan consistent with organisational policy and the approved budget
  • ensuring legal requirements are met
  • developing a risk management plan and ensuring it is implemented
  • ensuring the board is functioning well, reviewing the work of the board and planning for the succession and orientation of board members.

Directors

A director oversees the management of the company on behalf of its shareholders. There are different types of director positions.

Executive Director: usually a full-time employee of the company or organisation who also holds a position on the board.

Managing Director: the most senior executive in the company or organisation who also sits on the board.

Non-Executive Director: not an employee but holds a position on the board.

Independent Director: non-executive directors who may receive a director’s salary, but do not have any material or financial relationship or transactions with the company, its promoters or shareholders, its management or its subsidiaries, which may affect their independence of judgement. All independent directors are non-executive directors but a non-executive director is not necessarily an independent director.

Office holders

Most boards are made up of a group of office holders including at least a chair, deputy chair and treasurer, whose roles are described below. Many boards also have sub-committees that focus on particular areas, such as audit, risk management and ethics. Directors are often asked to sit on one or more board committees such as an audit committee or human resources committee. Appointment procedures for the different office holders should be outlined in the board’s rules.

Chairperson: The chair serves as the board’s spokesperson and takes a leading role in the functioning of the board. The chairperson is responsible for managing board meetings, ensuring that the discussion remains focused, decisions are reached and that members observe meeting rules.

Some chairpersons are also given an additional casting vote, to use when the votes on the board are evenly divided. With larger boards, the chairperson may act as the link between the board and the head of the organisation or chief executive officer.

Deputy Chairperson: many boards appoint a deputy chairperson to support the chair and to fill in when the chair is absent. The deputy chairperson is also expected to play a major role in board leadership.

Treasurer: the treasurer is responsible for monitoring the financial position of the organisation and keeping other board members informed of financial matters.

Company Secretary: company secretaries make sure that a company complies with its legal and regulatory obligations and that decisions made by the board are implemented.

Executive Officer/Secretary: administrative support for boards can either be provided through the management structure of an organisation or as a board role, often known as a ‘secretary’ or ‘executive officer’. This role is responsible for tasks such as preparing and distributing meeting agendas and minutes, and maintaining records.

In the not-for-profit sector, the board secretary may also be responsible for ensuring the preparation and adoption of a media policy and serves as spokesperson for the organisation as appropriate, promoting the organisation in the community as opportunities arise.

Board documents

There are a number of key documents relevant to boards. These relate to:

  • induction
  • insurance
  • finance
  • annual reporting.

Induction documents

Most boards provide new members with a governance handbook that includes information about the organisation, board and board members:[7]

  • organisation—strategic plans and structure, core operations, policies, role of management and key stakeholders, legislation, reporting requirements and compliance obligations
  • board—role of the board, board structure, code of conduct, board rules and procedures, legislative and/or compliance requirements, board policy, minutes from recent board meetings and an annual calendar of activities
  • board members—roles and responsibilities including financial and legal obligations.

Insurance documents

Some common insurance policies include:

  • public liability insurance (to protect against negligence claims against the organisation or company)
  • directors’ and officers’ (D&O) liability insurance (to protect individuals against negligence claims).

The higher the risk, the more insurance the board and its members need. You may need to consult a broker to determine if any other types of insurance are required for your particular role. The board should have details available of any insurance it holds for its board members, how much coverage is provided and for how long they will be covered. An insurance policy’s Certificate of Currency and policy document will provide information about what is covered and for how long.

Financial papers

Financial accountability requires that all transactions are recorded, all payments authorised and that the board does not authorise the expenditure of more money than it can afford.

The board’s financial documents should include a statement of the budgetary position, and allow members to have information available about assets and liabilities. Board members should become familiar with all financial documents as financial accountability is one of the board’s most important areas of supervision.

Board members are often expected to review and approve financial papers at regular intervals. They may also be involved in preparing documents in readiness for external auditing.

Annual report

The annual report outlines the activities that have taken place during the previous year and provides an outlook for the future. An annual report can be important because it demonstrates the board’s fulfilment of its duty to be accountable and transparent. It can also show the efficiency and effectiveness of the board through a description of the year’s achievements.

Annual reports vary greatly depending on the style and the responsibilities of particular boards. They may be freely available to the public or produced only for internal and government reporting purposes.

Resources

How boards work

Links to some of the available resources available are provided below:

  • The Western Australian Public Sector Commission publishes a guide to assist members of Western Australian Government board members in understanding their obligations and the scope of the task ahead:
    Good governance for WA boards and committees
    The website provides general information about the responsibility for ensuring good governance of a public sector body, types of boards and committees, and links to two publications: ‘Board essentials’ and ‘Conduct guide for public sector boards and committees’
  • The Governance Institute of Australia is an independent professional association that focuses on the practice of governance. It provides education and support for practising chartered secretaries, governance advisers and risk managers.
    Download the institute’s ‘Good Governance Guide—Board structure’ for not-for-profit organisations.

Section 3—Assessing your board readiness

Do you have relevant attributes and skills?

While boards and committees are different and have specific membership requirements, there are some common attributes and skills needed to be an effective member of any board or committee.

Consider whether you’re ready to serve on a board or committee by asking yourself the following questions.

Am I—

  • a team player
  • committed to the board and its mission
  • confident of my knowledge and skills
  • positive and proactive
  • flexible and adaptable
  • creative and innovative
  • of strong moral and ethical character?

Do I have—

  • the skills to communicate well with a diverse range of people including stakeholders, other board members and directors
  • the capacity to analyse, evaluate and solve problems and apply strong critical reasoning
  • the ability to juggle professional and personal life, meet deadlines and work under pressure
  • board or leadership experience in a relevant sector or industry
  • relevant expertise specific to the board (such as financial management or legal skills)?

The following link may be helpful if you would like a more in-depth assessment of your leadership skills and board strengths.

Checklist for personal and professional development

The following checklists will help assess your board readiness. You do not have to tick all the boxes. Only tick the ones you need to focus on to begin your journey.

A. Your education

Do you need to upgrade your formal education to be attractive to a board?Yes ❏No ❏

  • If no, go to B.
  • If yes, which of the following options could you commit to?
    • AccountingYes ❏No ❏
    • LegalYes ❏No ❏
    • Financial analysisYes ❏No ❏
    • Company Directors course (see Australian Institute of Company Directors’ website) Yes ❏No ❏
    • Western Australian Council of Social Services (WACOSS) board trainingYes ❏No ❏
    • Other board trainingYes ❏No ❏
    • Other education or trainingYes ❏No ❏

Note: subjects such as accounting, law and financial analysis can be studied at various levels, from certificate level to degree and beyond.

B. Your professional development

Are there areas of knowledge and skills that you need to upgrade to be attractive to a board?Yes ❏No ❏

  • If no, go to C.
  • If yes, which of the following areas of knowledge and skills do you need to upgrade?
    • Leadership and management skillsYes ❏No ❏
    • Financial literacy, such as how to understand a budget, cash flow, profit and lossYes ❏No ❏
    • Working with teams and building teamsYes ❏No ❏
    • Industrial relations and human resource managementYes ❏No ❏
    • Organisational dynamicsYes ❏No ❏
    • Understanding cultural difference and diversityYes ❏No ❏
    • Risk analysisYes ❏No ❏
    • Ethics in businessYes ❏No ❏
    • Investment decisionsYes ❏No ❏
    • Shareholder rights and responsibilitiesYes ❏No ❏
    • Strategic planningYes ❏No ❏
    • AccountabilityYes ❏No ❏
    • Public speakingYes ❏No ❏
    • Time managementYes ❏No ❏
    • Other (please specify)Yes ❏No ❏

Note: it is not necessary to be knowledgeable and skilled in all of these areas. Select the ones that you feel would increase your appeal as a board member. Aim to develop a mix of skills.

C. Your work experience

Have you had limited work experience in management roles, in a limited number of industries?Yes ❏No ❏

  • If no, go to D.
  • If yes, which of the following career strategies would help expand your experience?
    • Find a mentor who could advise you on career opportunitiesYes ❏No ❏
    • Move ‘sideways’ to a different industry or sectorYes ❏No ❏
    • Take on a specific project that will expand your skills and experienceYes ❏No ❏
    • Be seconded to a role that will expand your skills and experienceYes ❏No ❏
    • Take on a role on a committee with a challenging taskYes ❏No ❏
    • Be promoted to a position with more management responsibilitiesYes ❏No ❏
    • Another strategy to expand your work experience (please specify)Yes ❏No ❏

Note: choose one or two strategies that you feel would be most effective for you. You may like to talk to colleagues or friends to explore other opportunities to increase your management experience.

D. Your networks

Having identified the sector in which you aspire to have a board role, do you need to expand your networks and contacts in that sector? Yes ❏No ❏

  • If no, go to E.
  • If yes, which of the following strategies would assist you?
    • Join an industry or professional association and attend functionsYes ❏No ❏
    • Join an organisation that aims to increase awareness of board issues, such as the Australian Institute of Company Directors or Institute of Community Directors AustraliaYes ❏No ❏
    • Subscribe to the Western Australian Council of Social Services (WACOSS) newsletter for information on issues and events in the not-for-profit sectorYes ❏No ❏
    • Another strategy (please specify)Yes ❏No ❏

Note: you may wish to scan the internet or talk to colleagues and friends to identify relevant networks and contacts.

E. Your personal development

  • Are there areas of personal development that you need to work on so that you could better manage the demands of being a board member?Yes ❏No ❏
  • Health and fitnessYes ❏No ❏
  • Supportive family and friendsYes ❏No ❏
  • Managing your emotionsYes ❏No ❏
  • Managing difficult peopleYes ❏No ❏
  • Making time for yourselfYes ❏No ❏
  • Other issues (please specify)Yes ❏No ❏

Note: identifying the areas in which you can develop your knowledge and skills is the first step. Use the checklist on the next page to develop a plan for some specific actions to take.

F. To do list

To do list
Action areasSteps you plan to takeReview dateProgress
Your education
Your professional development
Your work experience
Your networks
Your personal development

Note: Use this ‘To do’ list to plan some specific actions you can take to build your knowledge and skills. Review the list regularly and update your progress. You may wish to go back to the checklists to identify new areas for development.

Section 4—How to make it happen

Building your profile

If you are serious about being a leader, create opportunities where possible and make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. You can consider taking the following strategies:

  • promote your successes
  • build your reputation
  • develop your networks
  • create an online profile
  • direct your career
  • complete accredited board training
  • find a mentor and/or sponsor.

Promote your successes

Communicate your successes and the contributions you have made in your employment and board roles to people who make decisions about board appointments. This will help you be noticed. Emphasise strengths you have that are in high demand and short supply. Draw attention to these in your curriculum vitae (CV).

Build your reputation

Your reputation is a vital asset. Build your reputation by delivering beyond expectation, being professional at all times and acting with integrity. Be selective about the roles you accept.

Peer support is a good indication that you have earned a strong reputation. Holding a position as chairperson or deputy chairperson and being re-appointed to positions are examples of this. Include these in your CV.

Ask yourself what sets you apart from your peers and other people seeking board positions. This will give you a clearer understanding of what you have to offer. Once you are clear about this message, keep it consistent throughout your CV, cover letter, online and personal networks. This is sometimes referred to as your ‘personal brand’.

Demonstrating that you understand ethical issues will be a benefit. A clear understanding of the ethical standards required by board members will help you to recognise when potential conflicts of interest or other sensitive issues arise. Board members must also be clear about the boundaries between the strategic responsibilities of the board and the operational responsibilities of the staff and/or volunteers.

Develop your networks

Networks are the connections and relationships you have formed with people in your communities or profession. Networking is about both giving and receiving information and assistance. It provides access to useful contacts, perspectives and opportunities.

Benefits of networking include:

  • increasing the number of opportunities that you hear about
  • keeping up-to-date with issues affecting the sector in which you operate or are interested
  • access to those who make decisions or have an influence over board appointments in the sector that interests you
  • benefit from the support and advice of others
  • raising your profile.

Ways to develop your networks include:

Create an online profile

It is now common practice to search the internet for information about a candidate for any position including a board position. Anyone considering you for a board position may search for information about you on the internet.

Information about you can be stored on a variety of sites. Social networking sites, for example, are used for professional networking and information sharing.

LinkedIn is an online social networking site. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, LinkedIn is used for professional networking. Business professionals create profiles and connect with colleagues. LinkedIn can be a powerful networking tool, allowing users to build their business networks and stay in touch with professional contacts.

Other sites can contain information about you that does not enhance your personal brand or reputation.

Suggestions for your social media networking profile include:

  • creating a LinkedIn profile including your education history, work experience, professional affiliations, a picture and current contact information
  • strengthening your online profile by contacting people you know in professional contexts such as current and former bosses, co-workers, clients and classmates, along with relevant friends and relatives
  • joining the Facebook pages of relevant groups to which you belong (consider alumni groups and professional societies)
  • requesting former bosses to write a recommendation highlighting key skills and including specific examples of your successes
  • providing information about your board aspirations by sending short messages to selected members of your LinkedIn network; ask them to contact you with any board opportunities in their organisations
  • helping members of your network when you can by answering questions, providing introductions and writing recommendations
  • specifying appropriate privacy settings.

Complete accredited board training

A good way to improve your understanding of the responsibilities of board members and the functions of a board is to complete some accredited board training (also known as governance training). Board training is preferred but, of course, is not compulsory, however, it will demonstrate to a board that you are serious about quality governance. There are a range of providers available, for example, the Australian Institute of Company Directors and Western Australian Council of Social Services (WACOSS).

Direct your career

Work experience can be a key consideration in a board’s selection decision. For example:

  • the size and complexity of the organisations with which you have been involved affects how your board capability is perceived—you are more likely to be perceived as suitable for leadership roles in similarly sized organisations
  • a business background is usually necessary for positions on business boards and experience in the business sector is often sought after in other sectors
  • law and accountancy are valuable board skills since an understanding of regulatory compliance and financial literacy are both important.

Your job can provide an avenue to increase your board readiness. For example:

  • include an objective of taking on leadership and board roles in your performance development plan as a way of informing management of your goals and seeking their support
  • apply for relevant training courses
  • seek out challenging projects that will stretch your abilities, allow you to learn, and attract the attention of senior managers and board members.

Profile building checklist

Do you have a clear idea of the public image you wish to project to complement your aspirations as a board member? Yes ❏No ❏
If not, think about the types of photographs and information, both professional and personal, that would reinforce your profile.

Are your presentation, business card design and speaking style consistent with the profile you wish to promote?
Yes ❏No ❏

Use reliable search engines to find out what is publically available about you.
Does it complement the board member image you wish to project?Yes ❏No ❏
If not, seek advice on what you can change or ameliorate.

If you have a Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking account, are the security settings appropriate to protect your privacy? Yes ❏No ❏
If not, adjust accordingly.

Would a LinkedIn account be useful to build your professional profile?Yes ❏No ❏
If you have an account, review what is publically available to make sure that it is consistent with your desired public image.

Are you always careful with any communications (including email, tweets and internet forums) to use appropriate language and respectful opinions? Yes ❏No ❏
If not, remember that a person making a recommendation for a board position may see or hear about this.

Find a mentor and/or sponsor

Mentors

A mentor is an experienced person who acts as your role model and guide and who assists you in carrying out your role effectively. Mentors can be particularly helpful when it comes to managing more complex challenges.

A mentor:

  • acts as a sounding board to test your ideas
  • helps you to identify and maximise your strengths and aptitudes for a board role
  • discusses your performance and helps you address areas where you require development.

It is important that a mentor:

  • has an appropriate level of skill and experience
  • is committed to your development
  • is trustworthy—you need to have confidence in your mentor’s discretion
  • has sufficient time available for your requirements.

When choosing a mentor, consider people who have served on similar boards as they are likely to understand challenges you may face. If a suitable person cannot easily be identified in your area, you could consider a telephone or electronic mentoring relationship.

Mentoring schemes operate through a number of organisations, such as:

Many organisations have set up formal or structured mentoring programs. Your organisation may have a mentoring program that you could consider joining. Once you are on a board, there may be a formal mentoring system in place for your board. If not, search for a person or people who could serve in this capacity.

Sponsors

A sponsor is different from a mentor. A sponsor can proactively help you to advance your career. A sponsor is an experienced person who may connect you to senior leaders within or external to the organisation, or advocate on your behalf.

The sponsor can promote your visibility, give advice on career moves and actively help you to find career opportunities either within or outside your organisation. At different stages of your board career you may benefit from either a mentor or a sponsor, or perhaps both.

Some organisations may include sponsorship as part of their human resources capability development or career progression strategy. As part of your personal development plan you may wish to discuss this further with your manager.

Be persistent

There is strong competition for board roles. The first board role is often the hardest to get, but as your experience and reputation grow, more opportunities are likely to come your way. To succeed, you need to be persistent. If you do not have immediate success, do not take it personally—keep developing your talents and building your experience.

How to prepare a CV for a board position

A curriculum vitae (CV) is required as a part of the appointing agency selection process to assess your experience and achievements. A governance CV is a marketing document above all else, and should be tailored to the requirements of the board and its industry.

You need a well-thought out and constructed governance CV to make sure it gives you the best chance to be considered for a board role. It should be more focused, concise and at a more strategic level than a standard resume or management CV.

Your board CV should be strongly targeted to highlight your leadership and/or management skills, knowledge of, networks in and commitment to the community or industry in which the board is involved, and your related work experiences and achievements. It should ideally be no longer than two to three pages.

Research the organisation, and its industry, to show your expertise in those areas.

What you need to include

Your board CV should include:

  • personal information such as contact details. It is optional to include date of birth, residency status and languages
  • professional memberships, awards or recognition
  • a statement of your personal strengths (what you can offer to the board)
  • a summary of your board experience
  • board appointments with details of role held and dates in reverse chronological order (most recent first)
  • employment history, including a short description of the roles, responsibilities and achievements for each position, and dates in reverse chronological order
  • community and volunteer service
  • educational qualifications and accreditations (name of institution and dates)
  • professional training and development (name of institution and dates)
  • optional information (LinkedIn address, awards received, interests, hobbies and projects undertaken).

Tips for a great board CV

  • Include context where relevant—include your achievements, the size of your organisation, if it is an international or national company, the scale of projects for which you have been responsible, risks involved, the size of the company’s workforce, its budget, turnover, savings achieved, change management involved and timelines met.
  • Customise your CV—highlight the information most relevant to the role that you are seeking. If you have worked in a profession different from the board or have expertise in other areas such as human resources, marketing, information technology, risk, or change management, emphasise your general management experience while also pointing out the added value you can bring from your specialty.
  • Be brief—include only the information that best describes your skills, experience and achievements that are of relevance in a governance role.
  • Be honest but not unnecessarily modest—your CV should be an accurate reflection of your skills and experience. Always be truthful. Do not exaggerate. Clearly describe your leadership and influence in a particular role, project or team. Use action verbs such as ‘I created’ or ‘I coordinated’.
  • Reflect your professionalism, not your personality—a CV is a professional document designed to summarise and reflect your professional skills, experience and attributes. It is not an opportunity to display your personality or character traits. Keep it simple, straightforward and professional. This includes formatting. Use an easy-to-read font like Arial 12 point. Carefully check spelling and grammar, and do not use coloured paper or clip art.

Board CV template—not-for-profit sector

Board CV template—not-for-profit sector
Action areasSteps you plan to take
Curriculum vitae ofYour name
Personal detailsName
Addresses (physical and/or postal)
Telephone number/s
Email
MembershipsInclude current community and professional memberships.
Add previous memberships if relevant to the position
Summary of what you can offer to the boardUse short, clear sentences to describe what you offer to the position.
Summarise the qualities and experience that you believe will make you a valuable member of the board.
Governance experienceGovernance experience in the community sector
Current directorshipsList position and start date (month and year) in reverse chronological order, the most recent first.
Indicate if you are chair or a member of a committee.
Previous directorshipsUse the same format, but include relevant community directorships
Aspiring board memberIf you have not yet been a director on a community sector board, list your experience on either private or public sector boards.
You can also include other governance experience, such as working on committees and reporting to a board.
Employment historySame as above unless relevant to the board position you are seeking.
For each position, include a brief sentence about your principal responsibilities in the position, your achievements, emphasising the relevant information.
Community and voluntary serviceList all current community and volunteer service, and past service if relevant.
QualificationsList your qualifications, year completed and institutions from which they were obtained.
You may choose to highlight relevant aspects of a course (for example, BA, including a unit in governance in the not-for-profit sector).
OptionalOther relevant information, such as interests, hobbies and projects undertaken.

Board CV template—public sector

Board CV template—public sector
Action areas Steps you plan to take
Curriculum vitae ofYour name
Personal detailsName
Addresses (physical and/or postal)
Telephone number/s
Email
MembershipsInclude current professional memberships.
Add previous memberships if relevant to the position
Summary of what you can offer to the boardUse short, clear sentences to describe what you offer to the position.
Summarise the qualities and experience that you believe will make you a valuable member of the board.
Governance experienceGovernance experience in government.
Current directorshipsList position and start date (month and year) in reverse chronological order, the most recent first.
Indicate if you are chair or a member of a committee.
Previous directorshipsUse the same format as above, but include relevant public sector directorships only for the last 10 years
Aspiring board memberIf you have not yet been a director on a government board, list your experience on either not-for-profit or private sector boards.
You can also include other governance experience, such as working on committees and reporting to a board.
Employment historyFor each position, include a brief sentence about your principal responsibilities and your achievements, emphasising the relevant information.
Community and voluntary serviceIf relevant
QualificationsList your qualifications, year completed, and institutions from which they were obtained.
You may choose to highlight relevant aspects of a course (for example, Certificate IV, Public Policy, including a unit in adding value to the public sector).
OptionalOther relevant information, such as interests, hobbies and projects undertaken.

Board CV template—private sector

Board CV template—private sector
Action areas Steps you plan to take
Curriculum vitae ofYour name
Personal detailsName
Addresses (physical and/or postal)
Telephone number/s
Email
MembershipsInclude current business and professional memberships.
Add previous memberships if relevant to the position
Summary of what you can offer to the boardUse short, clear sentences to describe what you offer to the position.
Summarise the qualities and experience that make you a great fit for the board.
Governance experienceGovernance experience in business.
Current directorshipsList position and start date (month and year) in reverse chronological order, the most recent first. Indicate if you are chair or a member of a committee.
Previous directorshipsUse the same format, but include relevant business directorships.
Aspiring board memberIf you have not yet been a director on a business board, list your experience on not-for-profit or public sector boards. You can also include other governance experience, such as working on committees and reporting to a board.
Employment historyFor each position, include a brief sentence about your principal responsibilities and your achievements, emphasising the relevant information.
Community and voluntary service If relevant
Community and voluntary serviceIf relevant
QualificationsList your qualifications, year completed, and institutions from which they were obtained.
You may choose to highlight relevant aspects of a course (for example, BSc, including a unit in renewable energy generation).
OptionalOther relevant information, such as interests, hobbies and projects undertaken.

Planning your board career

There are two main ways to plan your board career:

  • a stepping stone approach—progressing from board roles in smaller or less complex organisations to roles in larger or more complex organisations
  • developing your executive experience—building a successful professional career that can be applied to board roles.

You can follow either or both depending on your circumstances.

Stepping-stone approach

If you are looking for your first board role, target ‘entry-level’ roles—for example, boards attached to small organisations that operate at a local or regional level, or a not-for-profit organisation.

Taking a leadership role in your professional association or a role on the registration/disciplinary bodies for your profession (such as the Australian Society of Social Workers) is another way to get onto boards. These boards can serve as an entry point. For example, an accountant with little or no board experience may be able to serve on the Institute of Public Accountants.

Once you have held board or committee roles you can use this experience to target the boards of larger or more complex organisations.

Executive experience approach

Success in the following areas will give you useful expertise to apply as a board director:

  • proven experience and successes in chief executive or second-tier management roles
  • work experience in areas where you have financial management responsibilities for the organisation.

Finding board opportunities

There are a number of ways to become involved in boards. Knowledge about positions becomes available through:

  • advertisement
  • organisations’ Annual General Meetings
  • word of mouth
  • networks
  • direct appointment.

You may need to use either a direct or indirect approach to show your interest.

Direct (or elected) approach

The direct approach involves either:

  • nominating yourself for election as a board member
  • replying to a publicly advertised position
  • contacting a board or organisation directly to ask for a role.

Indirect approach

The indirect approach includes:

  • introducing yourself to colleagues as a skilled director who is interested in board roles (this approach is only recommended if you have built a solid reputation as a person with sound qualifications and experience)
  • submitting your CV to databases such as the Interested Persons Register in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet
  • connecting with relevant individuals and groups through social networking sites.

In some cases, current members nominate future board members. They identify trusted and respected associates from within their networks. They may also use board databases. Being nominated is therefore very dependent on your reputation and networks.

Where to look?

There are a number of sites that provide information about board vacancies.

Not-for-profit sector

The Institute of Community Directors Australia provides a board position matching service.

Public sector

The Western Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC) has a list of State Government boards.
You can register your interest on the Interested Persons Register.

Private sector

The Australian Institute of Company Directors lists vacancies on its website.

Choosing a board

It is important to gather important business information about a company or organisation whose board you are interested in joining. This process is called due diligence.

It means examining the current and potential health of the organisation. This will help identify whether the board is likely to succeed or if there are any potential threats such as financial or legal issues that could impact on the board. Information can be sourced by asking questions of office holders and researching documentation including annual reports, budgets, strategic plans and media reports.

Once you are satisfied that you have sufficient information about the board you can make an informed decision as to whether you wish to join the board and assume the responsibilities of a board member.

Some questions to ask are below.

Questions about the board:

How much time is required of a board member?

Find out how often the board meets, where it meets and how long the meetings normally last. When assessing how much time a board role is likely to demand, keep in mind that you will also need to read the meeting papers before meetings and that you may be required to attend other functions and carry out other tasks between meetings.

What can I contribute to this board and organisation?

Ask what skills or experience you can offer and what new skills you will have the opportunity to develop. Knowing the board’s needs and expectations will help you to assess whether you can capably fulfil the role asked of you. It is also important to find out what new skills and experiences you can expect to gain by serving on this particular board. It can also be helpful to ask why a board vacancy exists.

Why does the board want my involvement?

If you were approached to become a board member, it can be useful to ask why. The response may also help to confirm your strengths and talents. However, if a response is superficial (for example, only that your name was mentioned without an explanation of what knowledge or skills you might bring to the board), it may indicate that the board is not careful when thinking about its composition and future direction.

What payments are provided?

Board remuneration varies widely across sectors and organisations. It can range from unpaid volunteer work where out-of-pocket expenses (such as travel) are covered, to substantial payments (for some large companies). It is best to check with each individual board about these arrangements.

Who else is on the board? What are their backgrounds?

A properly functioning board requires a good mix of skills and experiences. Consider how you will add value to the group. Check the credentials of the other board members. Avoid boards with a lot of conflict.

What are the organisation’s roles, mission and direction?

It is important to have a good understanding of what the board’s organisation does, why it does it and what it plans to do in the future. This will help you decide if it is the right board for you and what contribution you can make to achieving the mission. Clear and realistic goals are important.

What legislation does the board need to adhere to?

Find out what legislation governs the board and the obligations. There may be Commonwealth and/or State legislation to consider.

At what stage is the board?

A recently formed board may be more time-consuming and challenging than one that has been operating for some time. There may be policies to write and strategies to develop. An established board that is refocusing or restructuring can also be challenging.

Does the board review its performance?

Some boards may have key performance indicators that are reviewed regularly to measure progress. Find out what these are and how often reviews are conducted and by whom. This can indicate the board’s priorities and true achievements.

What will my responsibilities be? Is there a role description for board members?

Ask if there is a detailed role description that explains a board member’s role and tasks. If there isn’t one, ask a current member to describe what they do during an average year.

Can I review board documents such as minutes?

If possible, ask to see the minutes from several years. Some experienced board members suggest going back as far as five years. Reading the minutes will give you an idea of the type of issues and decisions that the board has considered.

Has there been any litigation or complaints about the board?

Ask about the organisation’s history. A poor public image may be considered either a reason not to choose a board or an opportunity to improve it.

Does the organisation have directors and officers liability insurance?

Directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance protects directors and officers (regardless of whether they are acting in a part-time, honorary or non-executive capacity) against claims arising from official actions and decisions. This includes civil damages and criminal or regulatory defence costs.

How long am I covered for under this insurance, and what is covered?

Details of insurance policies differ. Examine the Certificate of Currency to see when coverage expires and what events and sums are included. If you are not sure about any aspect of the insurance, it may be worthwhile seeking a professional opinion.

How financially viable is the organisation? Can I see the financial plan and budget?

Make sure you are fully informed about the existing financial position before you agree to take on these responsibilities. As a board member, you will oversee the organisation’s finances. You may be personally liable if things go wrong.

What information or support will be available to assist me to do my job as a board member?

Find out what resources will be available to help you in your new role, such as:

  • formal or informal mentoring programs or orientation sessions
  • whether there is a staff member to provide administrative support, office equipment, stationery or reimbursement for costs
  • what level of support will be given by the chairperson and other directors.
What is the reputation and track record of the organisation’s head?

To govern effectively, the board needs to rely on an effective manager. It is a good idea to consider the capabilities of the chief executive/executive director.

Questions for you

Once you have adequate information from speaking to board members, either informally or as part of a formal interview process, you will be in a position to consider some questions for yourself.

Can I commit the time and energy the position deserves?

Make a realistic assessment of the time required for the board position and compare this with how much time you actually have to offer.

How long am I expected to stay on the board?

Find out if there is a set term for members and how long this is. Decide how much time you are willing to devote to a board over the longer term as well as on a daily basis. Consider whether you can commit to this time and if you would consider more than one term. Let the other board members know your intentions to avoid misunderstandings.

What value can I add to this board?

Decide whether you are a suitable candidate, taking into consideration why the board wants you and what skills you will be expected to contribute. An honest self-assessment may be of more value than an assessment others have made of your skills and aptitudes.

Is this a supportive board?

Does the board atmosphere lead you to feel that board members are open and accepting? If you have special circumstances, such as a physical disability, it is important that you feel comfortable with the organisation and its board. For example, are meetings held at accessible venues?

What do I want from this experience?

People join boards for many reasons. Understanding your own motivations will help you assess whether or not your expectations are likely to be fulfilled.

Can I hold this position with integrity?

Examine the functions and past decisions of the board to assess whether there are situations that could impact your business or personal interests, or those of your family and friends. Be sure you can manage any conflicts of interest.

When you leave a board

When you leave a board, consider the ways in which you could assist and promote an aspiring CaLD board member. From your networks, you may know a suitable candidate for the board. You could offer your services to the board to find a potential replacement, and approach the candidate to determine whether they would welcome you as a mentor or sponsor.

Section 5—Useful links and references

Useful links

Links to some organisations that provide information and resources to support your professional learning for governance roles are listed below.

References

Adler, NJ & Gunderson, A 2008, International dimensions of organisational behaviour, Fifth edition, South-Western College Publishing, Cincinnati.

Barta, T, Kleiner, M & Neumann, T 2012, ‘Is there a payoff from top team diversity?’, McKinsey Quarterly, 2012.

Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee (CAMAC) 2009, Diversity on Board of Directors, Report, New South Wales, Sydney, www.camac.gov.au.

Diversity Council Australia (DCA) 2014, Cracking the cultural ceiling: future proofing your business in the Asian century, in association with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Commonwealth Bank, IBM Australia, King and Wood Mallesons, Performance Education, and The Next Step, DCA Ltd, New South Wales, Sydney, www.dca.org.au.

Diversity Council Australia (DCA) 2013, Capitalising on culture: a study of cultural origins of ASX 200 business leaders, in association with the Australian Multicultural Council, PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia (PwC), Australian Government and IBM, Diversity Council Australia, New South Wales, Sydney.

Diversity Council Australia (DCA) & Scanlon Foundation 2013, ‘Cultural diversity: the benefits for business’, A Taste of Harmony, Share Your Culture and Food at Work, 18–24 March, www.tasteofharmony.org.au and www.dca.org.au.

Edwards, M & Clough, R 2005, Corporate governance and performance—an exploration of the connection in a public sector context, Issue Series Paper no. 1, January, p. 6.

Erhardt, NL, Werbel, JD & Shrader, CB 2003, ‘Board of director diversity and firm financial performance’, Corporate Governance: An International Review, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 102–11.

Forbes Insights 2013, Diversity and inclusion: fostering innovation through a diverse workforce, in association with AT&T, Mattel, L’Oreal, USA, Forbes Insights, New York
http://images.forbes.com/forbesinsights/StudyPDFs/Innovation_Through_Diversity.pdf.

Fombrun, C & Shanley, M 1990, ‘What’s in a name? Reputation building and corporate strategy’, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 33, pp. 233–58.

Hunt, V, Layton, D & Prince, S 2014, ‘Diversity matters,’ McKinsey and Company, USA, November.

Miller, T & Triana, MDC 2009, ‘Demographic diversity in the boardroom: mediators of the board diversity-firm performance relationship’, Journal of Management Studies, vol. 46, no. 5, pp. 755–86.

Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship (OMAC), Department of Premier and Cabinet 2013, Victorian Government initiatives and reporting 2011–2012, Victoria, Melbourne.

PriceWaterHouseCoopers 2005, Corporate governance toolkit, second edition, April.

Robinson, M, Pfeffer, C & Buccigrossi, J 2003, ‘Business case for inclusion and engagement,’ wetWare, Inc. Rochester, New York, http://workforcediversitynetwork.com/docs/business_case_3.pdf.

Russell Reynolds Associates 2009, Different is better: why diversity matters in the boardroom, Interviews and Findings from Industry Leaders, www.russellreynolds.com/content/different-better.

Sealy, R, Elena, D & Vinnicombe, S 2009, Increasing diversity on public and private sector boards, Part 1, How diverse are boards and why? Government Equities Office, United Kingdom.

Walt, N Van-der, Ingley, C, Shergill, GS & Townsend, A 2006, ‘Board configuration: are diverse boards better boards?’ Corporate Governance, vol. 6, no. 2, p. 129, www.asx.com.au/about/corporate-governance.htm.

Watson, W, Kumar, K & Michaelsen, K 1993, ‘Cultural diversity’s impact on interaction process and performance: comparing homogenous and diverse task groups’, Academy of Management, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 590–602.