Written by Dotty Winters

Lifestyle

Boardroom Blitz

Dotty Winters is calling for more women to help her tip the balance on the UK’s boards. Ready to raise your hand?

board meeting in silhouetteLast year I helped three women to get their first roles on boards. It happened by accident and it didn’t take much, but it is one of the things I am most proud to have been part of.

Somewhere between Christmas and New Year I had a moment of the sort of clarity which only comes from too much sitting, too much cheese and too much Baileys; this year I want to do more of that.

I’ve been working with and being part of boards for a decade, in a voluntary and paid capacity. I’ve written before about why I think it’s important. I am fortunate to have amazing board colleagues and when I’ve worked with boards that I’m not a member of, they have, on the whole, been packed full of people who have great skills and do things with the best intention.

Despite this, boardrooms are the least diverse environment I work in (and I’ve worked in construction and comedy). At 37 my (relative) youth as a board member is regularly commented on. A world where 37 is considered unusually young to have influence is a world we need to change.

It is now relatively clearly established in research that diverse boards are more effective, and we’ve known this for some time. Yet, even in 2016, in the comparatively progressive UK, there are more men named John in leadership positions than there are women.

Research on representation of other perspectives (including disability, sexuality, age and class) is far less common and much harder to find – but what is available suggests we are woefully lacking in diversity against almost any measure.

The solution isn’t about lowering the bar; there are plenty of fully qualified, experienced and truly excellent people out there who don’t know how to get involved or are put off by their perceptions of board membership.

“This year, I’d like to help 10 people find their first board roles and I’d like those to be people who bring different experience and perspectives to those already typically predominant in board rooms. This isn’t just about gender; it’s the voices which are in short supply.”

In the fight for a fairer world it is easy to vilify boards and view them as shadowy establishment figures, disconnected from the communities they serve and acting in their own self-interest. Shining a light on this is important and I support it. There are lots of ways to bring about change: activism, pacifism, protest, art, satire. One way to bring about change is from the inside.

If we are unhappy about the difference made by boards we can fight to have a wider range of perspectives present when important decisions are being made. Being on the board isn’t the only way to make change happen, not by a long shot, but it is an area I know a little about and it’s somewhere where I think I can make a small difference.

There are paid opportunities out there, although they often require previous board experience, which people commonly acquire by acting in a voluntary capacity (for example as a trustee for a local charity, or a school governor). It can be incredibly rewarding, root you into a cause or community you care about and is a great way to build skills, contacts and motivation.

In my head I set a little target: this year, I’d like to help 10 people find their first board roles and I’d like those to be people who bring different experience and perspectives to those already typically predominant in board rooms. This isn’t just about gender; it’s the voices which are in short supply.

Unsure where to start, I posted on Facebook, and within 48 hours I had more than 10 people ask for help. I’ve started making contact with them all, and working out what they need. I’ve cobbled together a little website at www.tiptheboard.com and it seems the ball is rolling. I’m already veering between excitement and mild panic as to what I’ve started.

As more people get in touch I’m realising I can’t do this alone. I’ve already had offers from other experienced board members to help people review CVs or applications or write an article or blog, but if there are any more out there who are willing to volunteer a few hours, that would be incredible. I’ve started the job of writing some articles and how-to guides so we can help even more people and I’d love suggestions on what information would be useful.

If you think you have a perspective that’s under-represented in UK boardrooms, and you want to take the plunge or just find out more, please visit the Tip The Board Facebook page and make contact. It’s time to hit the system where it hurts: right in the boards.

@DottyWinters
www.tiptheboard.com

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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.