Get on Board: Why diversity on boards matters

This week I attended the University of Leeds Council Meeting, from the other side of the table. What do I mean by this? I used to be a member of Council as a Student Union Officer in 2003-2004. November last year I was asked to become a Council member (equivalent to a trustee). I was filled with joy. You may think, why? Firstly, it was my alma matter, so I was honoured. Secondly, as I run my own business it’s great to be part of a larger executive body that oversee strategy and decisions. I want to share with you the current ethnic and gender diversity picture on boards. I also want to encourage BAME women to get on board!

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Discussions about diversity on boards is not new. Every year, there are many articles and recommendations on how far behind board diversity is. The skills gap, what we need to do and a debate about quotas. The Government’s Parker Review (revised Oct 2017) recommended that no FTSE 100 board should be exclusively white by 2020.  Currently only 8.2 % of FTSE 100 board members are BAME and 28.7% are women (Oct and Mar 2018 figures respectively). I honestly don’t feel we are on track in all diversity areas. I rarely even see a mention about disability, LGBTQIA+ or religious diversity on boards.

What does the research say?

Research by Inclusive Boards in November 2018 found that 6.6% of trustees at the top 500 charities (by income) in the UK are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Two-thirds of UK digital companies have no female directors on their boards (November 2018 figures). This figure then rises to 75% for ethnic minorities. Like the charity sector the technology sector lags behind FTSE 100 companies. You can read more about the statistics here.

This doesn’t just affect PLCs, tech companies and charities. It extends to schools too.  The organisation Governors for Schools has made one of its key goals to improve the diversity of school’s governance boards across the UK. Improving school performance is inextricable linked with effective governance. The current figures here are that 94% of school governors are white, 1.1% are under 30, and 10.4% are under 40. I think it’s safe to say that this does not reflect the young pupils they serve. I am also a school governor and was shocked to read this.

What about the 30% club?

You may know about the work of the 30% Club. They launched as a campaign in the UK in 2010, and now work in eleven other countries via their chapters. The aim of the 30% Club is to develop a diverse pool of talent for all businesses through the efforts of its Chair and CEO members. It’s voluntary not mandatory. They are focused on businesses who are committed to better gender balance at all levels of their organisations. It’s about moving to make the subject mainstream and business as usual.

 Why it’s important to have diversity on boards

One of the key concerns from senior executives is a growing skills shortage. The current thinking is there are more board vacancies that people to fill them. This number is only going to increase. Akin to staff recruitment, board make-up and diversity needs to reflect the people it serves. I find diversity of people (gender, age, ethnicity, culture, disability, LGBTQIA+ etc) equates to depth and breadth of insight, perspective, communication skills and life experiences. It reduces group-think and reflects what’s going on outside the board room. Any and every organisation needs that.

Norway leads the way in board gender diversity with 42% of women on corporate boards. Detailed quotas were introduced in 2003. Seen as controversial in the UK, I think there is certainly a place for quotas. For me, Norway has proved that gender diversity at board level is achievable when there are targets to meet. You can still choose the “best” person from a smaller shortlist.

Non-exec and trustee roles have big parts to play in the life of all organisations. They have to develop long-term strategies, managing risks, be accountable, oversee finances and look for opportunities. This requires a broad understanding and a “hive mind” way of working.

Why I wanted to do it

I was first a trustee at the age of 21 for the Burley Lodge Community Centre in Leeds. This came about from me having volunteered there as a student. Then there was a lull in my boardroom activities due to building my career. The thought of wanting to contribute and be on a board never went away.  It was something I had wanted to do for a number of years in order to be part of a different kind of team. To have strategic overview and insight into the bigger picture. Something I wasn’t always able to input in my day job, due to workplace politics. Time has also been a barrier when I was commuting long hours. I just wouldn’t have been able to commit to the meetings.

When I started running my own business that changed and I was able to find the time and be more flexible about things. I knew the stats, I had read about them over and over. The low numbers of BAME women and the lack of representation. Which in effect had a negative outcome on the customer, client user experience. It is also a waste not to use what I have learnt over the last sixteen years to improve another organisation.

How you can do it

This is why I want to encourage you to go for it and get involved.  Here are my ideas about how you can be part of a board.

  • Think about your why. What motivates you to be part of a board.
  • Think about your skills both personal and professional that you can contribute.
  • Which organisations match your values and vision?
  • Be clear about how much time you can commit.
  • Be prepared to get out of your comfort zone.
  • Ask people about vacancies and share your vision, it’s amazing what people come back with.
  • In some cases it may not be possible to go straight into being a non-executive director for a FTSE 100 company. Plan your steps and where could you go first? Try a tech start-up, foundation arm of a FTSE 100, school or public appointment first.
  • Don’t be put off by rejection. It happened to me a lot. I have applied for so many things I thought I was perfect for, to then be told no.
  • Try to get feedback, but also you know yourself the best. I find Tara Mohr’s article about unhooking from praise and criticism extremely helpful.
  • It may take time and that’s ok. Use your cultural capital to its maximum advantage. That’s something not a lot of board members have, but you will!
  • Be prepared for a potentially bumpy ride. Pull your sleeves up and get stuck in, but make sure you have a good solid induction and know what your duties are and the relevant legislation according to the board you are on.


Also remember there are lots of resources out there. I have listed a few, but I know there will be many more. Keep going and you will get there!

  1. Applying for a Public Appointment
  2. Inclusive Boards
  3. Getting on Board
  4. 30% Club
  5. Inspiring the Future
  6. Governors for Schools
  7. Guardian-listed NED and Trustee vacancies
  8. The NED Exchange

Want to know more about my journey to becoming trustee? Hire me to speak at your event to showcase more about my story as a BAME Female Board member for a school and university.

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