BOARD AT WORK

Seek the right fit

The Advertiser - Careers - - Front Page - ALEXAN­DRA ECONOMOU Busi­ness Re­porter

BUSI­NESS peo­ple who are asked to take a board po­si­tion or as­pire to such a role are be­ing ad­vised to thor­oughly re­search an or­gan­i­sa­tion be­fore they be­come in­volved.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween why some boards suc­ceed and oth­ers fail can be at­trib­uted to a range of rea­sons, in­clud­ing the skill sets of those on the board, the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s fi­nan­cial po­si­tion and its strate­gic fu­ture.

Gov­er­nance Mat­ters ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Kate Costello, who has run the con­sul­tancy for 25 years, says cor­po­rate lead­ers need to weigh up the con­se­quences and ad­van­tages to their ca­reer and the or­gan­i­sa­tion be­fore join­ing its board. ‘‘ The per­ti­nent ad­vice is that you don’t just ac­cept it, you need to do your due dili­gence,’’ she says. ‘‘Firstly, what is the fi­nan­cial po­si­tion of the or­gan­i­sa­tion be­cause you par­tic­u­larly need to know what the ac­counts look like.

‘‘Se­condly, it’s good to ques­tion and see how (fine-tuned) the com­pany’s strate­gic di­rec­tion is.

‘‘Fi­nally, you need to look at the cal­i­bre of the peo­ple who sit around the board­room ta­ble.’’

Ms Costello, who has a law de­gree and pre­vi­ously worked in man­age­ment at a com­mer­cial law firm, says peo­ple who are look­ing to gain a po­si­tion on a board need to look at their own skill sets and find an in­dus­try and or­gan­i­sa­tion that best suits them.

Tra­di­tion­ally, many women have gone from po­si­tions on school coun­cils and com­mu­nity not-for-profit boards to sim­i­lar roles in the cor­po­rate sec­tor.

‘‘For a lot of women that’s been the nor­mal pro­gram to­wards a com­mer­cial board ap­point­ment,’’ Ms Costello says.

‘‘In the ‘olden days’ you got a tap on the shoul­der (to take a board role). These days, it’s more rig­or­ous. Nev­er­the­less, it’s still very much word of mouth and who you know that can help you get a board spot.’’

When it comes to start­ing your re­search, Ms Costello ad­vises busi­ness peo­ple to look at web­sites, such as The Aus­tralian In- sti­tute of Com­pany Di­rec­tors and State and Fed­eral Govern­ment sites, to get a greater un­der­stand­ing of or­gan­i­sa­tions which have boards. And while the num­ber of women in board po­si­tions is slowly im­prov­ing in Aus­tralia, Ms Costello says it is still far from a level play­ing field be­tween fe­males and males.

‘‘I think we are go­ing to have to have some leg­isla­tive im­per­a­tive (to en­cour­age com­pa­nies to em­ploy more women on boards),’’ she says.

‘‘All that means is that or­gan­i­sa­tions are more likely to look be­yond their nor­mal ‘catch­ment group’. There are sen­sa­tional women out there with fab­u­lous ex­pe­ri­ence.’’

She says she of­ten rec­om­mends women for board po­si­tions when asked. ‘‘I have been on boards as the sole fe­male,’’ she says. ‘‘There tends to be the same women on sev­eral boards.’’

Pic­ture: CALUM ROBERT­SON

Gov­er­nance Mat­ters ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Kate Costello ad­vises po­ten­tial board mem­bers to do their home­work.

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