Students urged to carefully plan their board career

New Leadership in Board Governance course

Date posted

2 August 2017

16:26

IT’S become a mantra: too many of our boards in Scotland’s public, private and third sectors remain woefully male, pale and stale. But is that really a problem?

Dr Miles Weaver, a responsible business expert from Edinburgh Napier, points to an ancient Chinese proverb.

“A fish rots from the head down,” he said, “and so it is with businesses and other organisations - just look at the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

“That’s an example of when things went terribly wrong over a sustained period of time, and there’s no doubt that poor leadership and governance was at the root of the problem.

“We saw voices being ignored, health and safety and fire regulations being overlooked and, at an ethical level, an abdication of responsibility around simply just doing what is right.” 

Weaver says the “monotonous” debate about board diversity is over and the priority now should be breaking down barriers in order to inspire the next generation of governance leaders.

“Our boards are at the heart of decision-making and we know diverse boards perform better. There is no real argument about that now.

“Where we need to move the debate onto is around eradicating barriers to gender-balance and to nurturing a talent pipeline of governance leaders, including passionately instilling the benefits of stepping up to serve in young professionals.”

Serial entrepreneur Lynne Cadenhead, who has served on over 30 boards in Scotland’s public, private and third sectors, agrees.

“I would always encourage people to plan their board career with as much focus as their core career,” said Cadenhead, the current Chair of Women’s Enterprise Scotland and the UNICEF Scotland Advisory Board.

She has worked with Weaver and others – including management consultant Karen Anderson – to launch a new Leadership in Board Governance short-course.

“It’s never too early to start your board career,” she said. “My latest appointment to an advisory board is an 18-year-old schoolgirl.”

Weaver believes pursing a non-executive director (NED) role is a canny career development move, but is not the only option.

“NEDs provide a great opportunity to grow, be engaged and build relationships with critical stakeholders and bring new learning back into the workplace,” he said.

“But there is one other untapped opportunity – using your skills to serve on a charity, voluntary, public body or social enterprise board."

He said that while most of us already volunteer in more traditional ways, Trusteeship is also an option – and can address a range of board diversity challenges.

“Take Edinburgh alone, where 90% of the Volunteer Centre's 1,800 voluntary sector organisations currently have vacancies,” he said. 

“Volunteering is not just about your time, but what you can offer and get back: it’s a reciprocal relationship. 

“It starts with understanding yourself: What matters to you? What do you have to offer? And what might you gain that’s of value in your work and your family life?” 

He believes we all have “the potential to speak up, get involved and make a difference by influencing the decisions made in the board room that impact on our communities. 

“And if governance leadership tragedies like Grenfell are to be avoided in the future we desperately need that fresh blood.” 
 
Edinburgh Napier University is launching a CPD opportunity in Leadership in Board Governance from September 2017. The course will ensure participants are ‘board ready’ and help them pursue and attain a governance leadership role. For more information contact Peter Skellet on 0131 455 4642 or at p.skellett@napier.ac.uk

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