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Board Advisory

London Women on Industrial Boards: Autumn 2019

During our 4th female dinner, leaders gathered to discuss the route to chair, being purposeful, and the role women can play in supporting one another
  • 21 November 2019

Hosted by Ruth Cairnie, with 10 guests and three Egon Zehnder hosts, we gathered to discuss the route to chair, being purposeful; and the role women can play in supporting one another.

Below highlight seven major themes discussed regarding industrial boards:

1. The Path to Chair.

With the ‘9-year rule’ for maximum tenure for UK Chairs, it is now very clear that in order to secure a chair role, it is more important than ever to be very purposeful. A potential strategy would be:

  • Securing a NED role
  • Securing a FTSE 100 NED role
  • Prioritising chairing a committee
  • Aiming to become SID (Senior Independent Director)


2. Persevere!

3. Prepare, but, not too much.

4. The benefits of the RemCo Chair role.

5. What can hinder us in getting a chair role and how do we overcome this?

6. Employee Engagement, Culture & Board responsibility.

In general, boards are playing a more active role in terms of people decisions. “Governance has absolutely gone in the right direction on employee engagement. It has legitimised the expectation to go on site visits and to do something constructive with the feedback.” Succession planning is such a critical board responsibility and employee engagement has given the board licence to investigate.

Your NED career is actually quite short in terms of honoring time commitments, particularly if you aspire to become chair.

Boards are also taking more accountability of culture. “When a senior executive talks to me about the company’s culture, I always say ‘how do you know?’ However, if anecdotal feedback becomes the truth, that is very unhelpful.”

It is about trust and confidence. A command-and-control type of CEO is likely to dislike it if board members take a position.

7. Responsibility for the Board’s culture.

Boards need to take care of their own culture also. “I really value NEDs who can change their perspective, and work from different angles rather than playing a specific role. I am uncomfortable with the question: ‘Are they [NED candidates] going to fit?’ It is the alignment of common values that is important; I’m very tolerant of different outlooks/ perspectives. I’m looking for the grit in the oyster; people who provide a different perspective are great. All boards ask for someone who can challenge constructively – but not all live by that!”

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