Yesterday I graduated from the 2019 Women in Technology Board Readiness Program, this is the official description of the course:
My edited definition might be a little closer to the truth:
At the first workshop I felt incredibly intimidated by the resumes of the formidable women in the room. It was one of those moments in life when my inner critic started chattering, “Indi, are you even supposed to be here?”
I was the only person from a startup and definitely the only one wearing a t-shirt. But if my recent Startup Catalyst mission to London Tech Week taught me anything, it‘s that everyone has something important to contribute and that diversity of thought makes for richer experiences. I did my best to lean in and channel Sheryl Sandberg, embracing the opportunity to learn from my class and the mentors around me.
Whenever I’m trying to make sense of the world, I sketch it down until it becomes clear. This ability for creative note taking, which has always been a passion of mine, has become a key differentiator for how I link business objectives to strategy and then communicate it simply, to different levels within an organisation. Through out the course I took pages and pages of sketch notes and I’ll share a few in this article.
I was fascinated in our first two sessions by Christine Flynn, who made being on a board seem, how do I say it? … a whole lot of fun. Not discounting the responsibility that a board position carries, but helping us to imagine it as a big board game, with rules and regulations to be followed and when played well, many opportunities to win.
Christine introduced the concept of the Green Line, a framework that builds on the work of Margaret Wheatley. We were urged, instead of focusing on the tangible, visible, logical and controllable things like Systems, Structure and Skills, leadership must be focused on the invisible, intangible and often uncontrollable aspects of Relationships, Information and Identity.
Christine explained that the things above the green line, can very quickly be eroded by weak organisational culture and values. This spoke strongly to me and my role at Codebots as co-founder and Chief Community Officer where I am responsible for all things below the green line. It’s a unique position to be inventing, rather than inheriting a culture and to be using values to drive all levels of decision making as you scale.
The course focused a lot of time on helping the cohort tease out their board capabilities and personal brand. Liz Crawford’s 1, 2, 3 helped us to articulate our passion and capabilities in a succinct elevator pitch. Trying to get a single word to describe yourself proved to be both confronting and challenging.
I broke the rules and landed on:
- I’m a creative connector.
- I connect strategy and storytelling to transform business objectives into a community mission with a shared purpose.
- I am passionate about values-led organisations, community as a growth lever and the future of work.
The course covered a wide variety of content, from financial literacy to hosting mock board meetings. We also got to hear from a range of experienced board members, like Ann Uldridge and Bernadette Hyland who shared honest stories about how they got interested in boards as well as the highs and lows of their board careers.
But it’s the network that I have gained from this course that is the most meaningful outcome for me. To have dozens of trailblazing women who are willing to pay it forward and fuel the success of their peers is quite remarkable. This is something, that many women do naturally but when given a structure, like the Board Readiness Course, it becomes all the more powerful.
The Queensland Government is committed to achieving board gender parity by 2020 — and they are already at 48%. As at December 31, 2018 women accounted for 29.7% of all ASX200 board positions. This marked an increase of over 10 percentage points since 2015. The Australian Institute of Company Directors reports that the companies with the largest market capitalisations also have the highest proportion of female board members. This is all good news and while it is moving (slowly) in the right direction, women’s median annual earnings still stubbornly remain about 20 percent below men’s. This is despite the fact that many differences that contributed to the pay gap in the past have diminished or disappeared. Worryingly, as women take over male-dominated fields, the pay drops as reported in The New York Times. Will the same be true for the value attributed to a board position as members become more diverse?
For me, the question is not how do we get more women on boards, instead my burning question is;
“how can we transform boards to become a reflection of the diverse groups of people that they exist to serve?”
That starts with empowering and building confidence in under represented groups and arming them with the tools, the networks, the voice and the confidence that they need to take their seat at the board table.