Male, pale and stale.
The first week I attended my Corporate Governance class, halfway through my MBA, this was the tongue in cheek description of most boardrooms. Granted, this was in the United Kingdom and it was not an entirely politically incorrect term.
So, seeing as I was not male, pale OR stale I was left clutching on to the hope that I was going to be part of the boardroom revolution. But my classroom composition was a dynamic that did not make sense either.
Out of a cohort of 85 students (10% from Africa) those of us signed up for CG were 4. Yes, four. 3 Europeans and myself. Did I mention that my classmates were three MALE Europeans?
As we continue to bemoan the meager statistics of women on boards, decrying the cronyism and Old Boys’ Networks that is representative of non-executive directorship, the jury is still out on whether this trajectory is likely to change soon.
A 2015 report in the FTSE 100 companies showed that only 24% of directorships were held by women with only 8.6% of executive roles filled by women.
The Guardian even ran a joke that there were more men called John running FTSE 100 companies than all the female bosses put together.
Closer to home though, African companies have minimal women’s presence on boards, making up only 14 per cent of directors on the boards of Africa’s top 307 listed companies. Reassuringly though, Kenya leads the pack with 19.8% of female representation followed by South Africa with 17.4%.
As a non-executive director of a board of an unlisted Kenyan firm in the financial services industry, I want to debunk some myths.
Women DO want to sit on boards. Most times though, the path to being appointed as an exec or non-exec member of the team is rarely straight forward. The fact that fewer women than men rise to senior management positions only narrows the obvious candidate pool.
Similar sentiments have been echoed in the ongoing #wef.
My appointment happened at a time when I least expected it, and 5 years earlier than the targeted date in my ‘master plan’.
But more importantly, when I was given the opportunity, I was ready. And I said yes. Unequivocally.
Board diversity is NOT just gender, but includes competency, independence, race, religion and so on. And no, having the token female board member, for publicity or quota’s sake doesn’t count.
Even after having attended 6 months of Corporate Governance classes, I still attend training geared at becoming a more effective director.
You CAN learn to be a great director. No, it is NOT an innate talent, though how you combine your skills, capabilities and competencies plays a role in getting you to stand out.
The challenge for the private and the public sector is to stop looking for talent in the usual places and for women to start speaking out about the fact that they WANT to provide strategic direction via board appointments.