April 25, 2022

Women Directors Leadership Programme: Preparing Women in Leadership to Serve on Boards

Katherine Keango

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The Board of Directors is a critical instrument of governance and plays a key role in economic development in both public and private sectors. Board effectiveness is dependent on a variety of factors such as; the orientation of new board members, procedures for board training and development, boardroom discussion and participation, formal board member appraisal, remuneration of board members, and timeliness in making decisions.

Research shows that from ethical dimensions to the demographic dimensions of intellectual capital, harnessing emotional quotient to its impact on social quotient and cultural quotient, women directors perform exponentially better with the right knowledge, skills, and impactful network all framed around clear knowledge of their purpose and impact in society.

Last week, we began the Women Directors Leadership Programme (WDLP), Class of 2022, at Strathmore University Business School. The Programme consisted of week-long class sessions during which the participants covered topics such as; board fundamentals, work-home integration, self-insight and gender-related board dynamics.

The class sessions culminated in a guest speaker session on Friday, 22nd April 2022 with Patrick Obath who gave the participants insights on serving on a board of directors. Patrick Obath is the Chairman of the Board at the following organisations: LVCT Health, National Oil Corporation of Kenya, Adrian Kenya Limited, PZ Cussons EA Ltd, African Alliance Kenya Investment Bank, and Java House Africa. He is also a Non-Executive Director in companies involved in manufacturing, international development, automotive, FMCG and ICT sectors.

Speaking during the guest speaker session, Patrick gave the participants nine tips for women already serving on boards and those aspiring to become board members:

Prepare to be Thrust Out of Your Comfort Zone

 Before taking up his first role on a board, he admittedly was not confident about taking up the role as he had no prior experience. However, with the advice of his business mentor at the time, he decided to give it a shot. This new position put him in uncomfortable situations he was not accustomed to.

Be Inquisitive

“I have no particular talent. I am merely inquisitive” Patrick lives by this quote by Albert Einstein and credits an inquisitive mind for his success as a board member. There were moments he found himself unaware of certain things, but his inquisitive nature helped him gain footing in these positions. It is the reason for his many appointments to boards in industries where he had no expertise.

Take Yourself Seriously

Boards tend to have characters with big personalities, which can naturally be intimidating. Overcoming this requires a sense of self-confidence. Once you have learnt to articulate your value to your peers, your presence becomes invaluable.

Learn how to use Social Media for Personal Branding

Social media is one of the most effective tools for personal branding. However, the platform you choose to ‘display’ yourself professionally should be carefully thought out. Patrick credits LinkedIn as the social platform to use as a sound box for your accomplishments. He updates his profile often and has been approached on numerous occasions to serve on boards simply from interested parties viewing his profile and starting a conversation. He however warns of the perils of social media, board members have to remain on-brand throughout all platforms, which means you cannot preach water on LinkedIn and drink wine on Twitter. Uniformity or lack thereof of one’s persona can be a stumbling block when curating their social media platforms.

Practice Public Speaking Intentionally

Conferences and summits are great for networking. Most people attend these events to learn something new and meet new people; but how many actively seek to speak at them? Seasoned orators are often celebrated and lauded as captivating and influential. Actively seeking to present at a conference gets your voice out there and gets you noticed.

Read Daily

Patrick has served on 13 boards, two of which focus on HR, two audit committees, one in finance and several others he had no experience in. His expertise is in energy. Reading books, newspapers, articles and other publications has given him the range needed to keep abreast with emerging trends across all industries, giving him the confidence to seek a wide array of opportunities.

Champion for Diversity

Ethnic, gender and age diversity help groups have a variety of abilities and go towards benefitting the overall strategy of a board and the general organisational outlook. “There needs to be a paradigm shift when looking for board members. Do not look for board experience, look for an individual who adds value,” stated Patrick.

While addressing participants, he reminisced about when there were hardly any women on the boards he served in, to now having 50 to 60 per cent female representation. He noted that women bring realism and encourage everyone to view the world without rose coloured glasses. He advised participants to persevere while dealing with older resentful members who disliked opposition – for one, their time making decisions is somewhat limited, and as the tides turn to allow for more diversity on boards, a woman’s opinion is no longer a second thought and is now seen as instrumental in decision making.

Learn from Various Boards

Is there a conflict of interest when sitting on several boards at once? Many would respond in the affirmative, but Patrick believes that “it allows for cross-fertilization, enriching the board with a wide array of new ideas”. Sentiments are generally rigid when it comes to sitting on various boards, but they should not be.

Be Sensitive to all Members

Be aware of all characters and acknowledge that each member adds value; whether it is the quiet type who is seemingly always distracted, the precocious one who always has all the answers, or that one member whose outlooks and opinions focus on the negative. There is no room for resentment, and only an opportunity to appreciate everyone’s capacities.

Sitting on a board opens one up to many possibilities, and making the most of it is as simple as creating a niche, finding and understanding the dynamics of the board, and working to reshape them if they are limiting.

About the Women Directors Leadership Programme

The Women Directors Leadership Programme is an incisive Programme that aims at moving the focus from why women should be on boards and C-Suite positions to how they should perform for both board and leadership excellence.

Learn more about the Programme here

Article by Katherine Keango

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