Chairman of the Future: Diversity at the Top

By Helen Pitcher OBE, IDP-C, President of INSEAD Directors Network, Experienced Chairman, NED and Board Committee Chair

The sustainability of companies and businesses to contribute and benefit all of their stakeholders, is increasingly at the forefront of the minds of Politicians, Regulators, Society Pressure groups and Individuals.

Business of the future

The journey of Boards over the last 10 years towards greater diversity has seen a significant shift and we are starting to see the benefits of these more diverse Boards performing effectively in response to a wide range of challenges.  However, we also need to focus more fully on the diversity drive for the Chairman role, both to reflect these recent diversity gains on our Boards and to provide Leadership and a catalyst for increased change and action from our Boards.  It is time to stop the wastage of talent and get on with the job of facilitating women to achieve the top roles in our companies, we cannot afford to ignore 40% of the potential candidates.

The skills of chairman

The research from INSEAD suggests that there is very slow progress in this area, in the UK for example, if we do nothing, it will take until 2027 to achieve 20% of women as Chairman of our Boards (INSEAD Research by Professor Stanislav Shekshnia).  We need to accelerate the pace of change and ‘skip’ a male generation to drive the appointment of female Chairman more quickly and beyond that 20%.

As you look at the skills and expertise required to be an effective Chairman- the evidence for what makes an effective Chairman is very clear.  The skills that emerge as critical and defining are; an ability to influence others without dominating, having an engaged vision of the future, strong emotional intelligence and coaching skills. These Behavioural-Emotional skills are to the fore are with, the ability to build trust upon which people can rely.

“To be effective, Chairman must recognize that they are not commanders but facilitators. Their role is to create the conditions under which the Board can have productive group discussions. They should recognize that they are not first among equals. They are just the person responsible for making everyone on their board a good director.” (Professor Stanislav Shekshnia INSEAD-Leading from The Chair Programme).

Why do we need to accelerate the pace of change?

Without intervention the progress to women in the Chairman role is too slow; the target should be to get to 35% by 2025 and 50% by 2027.  While the general diversity debate has moved on, advancements towards Women Chairman are pitiful, with still too many active resistors, Headhunters, Chairman, Nominations Committees, and perpetuating stereotypes that you need 10 years Board experience to be considered.

More Women in the Chairman role can help rebuild the trust in our companies and build businesses that deliver business performance combined with social and environmental benefits, leading to greater sustainability in our society.  The social case for women Chairman is clear, ranging from societal benefits, to greater empowerment and inclusion of women, visible role models, as well as access to a broader talent pool and range of diverse skills.

There is a growing and enthusiastic enclave of advocates for the acceleration of progression of Women into the Chairman role across many influential groups, however there is still an inertia of action.  Consequently, in the UK we have started the ‘Diversity at the Top’ initiative as an advocacy group to focus on this Female Chairman issue.

Blockers to progress

Women themselves will also need to bolster their resolve, expressing the ambition to be Chairman and reducing their self-limiting belief that it is beyond their grasp.  They need to overcome the mind-set which causes them to seek to ‘over-qualify’ and be ‘over-capable’ before targeting themselves at the role.

Educating Nominations Committee members in how to formulate gender neutral job and person specifications is key, along with conducting a detailed skills audit of the Board with Diversity as a core dimension. This is best practice, but not universally applied.

Also, a shift needs to be made in the Recruitment-Development processes, moving from a stereotypical view of the Chairman role profile, towards a more creative resourcing, on-boarding and mentoring support process developing more appropriate role models.

There needs to be more active sponsorship and development of women at the Board level to engage with development for the Chairman role.  This needs to go beyond the typical Big Four Information sessions on Audit/Risk/Cyber/Governance, into a more creative development framework of Board level development. This will require women to step beyond the existing Board for their development, recognising that many Boards already have limited time allocated to develop knowledge and the interpersonal dynamics within the Boardroom.

We need to increase our ambition and pace of change; it is time to drive practical and direct action to accelerate the acquisition of more female Chairman right across our companies.

It is time to push through this current psychological log jam and actively discuss the facilitative and revolutionary evolution to remove this limiting mental model and stereotype of a Chairman.  There will need to be a concerted effort from Headhunters, Chairman, the media and the other wide range of interested groups to draw on available mentors and sponsors as well as to challenge thinking and make this happen.

As a practical step in the UK the ‘Diversity at the Top Initiative’ gathered together a group of likeminded people from a range of backgrounds who are committed to increasing the number of Female Chairman, as an exemplar of Board performance and a beacon for the diversity of their Executive pipelines.  This group has focused on ‘The Future of Woman Chairman’, over a series of meetings and discussions, and provided a spotlight on the issues and more importantly the potential solutions to this logjam.

A summary of their deliberations and Action Plan, identifying the most important areas to highlight to ‘move the dial’ can be accessed at here.

 

 

Women COVID leadership – The Head, the Heart and the Egos

By Helen Pitcher OBE, IDP-C, President of INSEAD Directors Network, Experienced Chairman, NED and Board Committee Chair

When we look back at the ‘good the bad and the ugly’ of the Covid Crisis, there will be many lessons to be learnt and best practices reviewed to prepare for any future global pandemic.

Some will be very practical lessons such as the need for quick reactions on key activities like trace and isolation, social distancing and using protective masks.

Some will be structural, such as responding to early warning systems as in New Zealand, or quickly deployable and scalable testing and tracing as in Germany, or rapidly deployable ‘critical care’ hospital capacity as in the UK.

It is largely clear that the countries impacted severely by the earlier SARs local epidemic (it was not officially a pandemic) have sensitised their health systems and citizens to respond effectively to a global pandemic threat and learnt some of the hard lessons the ‘West’ is now encountering, but was initially more sceptical about.

The last globally declared pandemic was in 2009 and the World Health Organisation (WHO) was harshly criticized when this global flu pandemic turned out to be much less severe than people had feared. “Rather than feeling relieved the pandemic wasn’t causing large numbers of deaths, people felt aggrieved they’d been scared over something they later concluded was far less scary than expected” and “governments that had contracts to buy pandemic vaccine — contracts that were triggered by the WHO’s declaration — were left on the hook for a vaccine many people didn’t want.”

There will undoubtably be a whole raft of epidemiology insights and new models preparing for future pandemics, together with a large smattering of hindsight and blame to be apportioned, with Enquiries and Commissions galore.

An increasingly talked about issue, which will undoubtably be part of the post-Covid debate, is the role of female political leader during the crisis.  There will be debates over the consensual approach, holding sway in many female leaders’ domains, versus the ‘obey and just do it’ approach in some more authoritarian regimes, which have also proved successful in managing the disease growth.

It has been widely reported in the media that we have seen a cadre of female political leadership who have managed a more successful response to the crisis, keeping the spread and contagion low in their countries.  This often quoted ‘super seven’ of the ‘Nordic quartet’ of Erna Solberg of Norway, Sanna Marin of Finland, Mette Frederiksen of Denmark and Katrin Jakobsdottir of Iceland, together with New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen is rounded off with the G20 member Angela Merkel of Germany. They are praised for their approaches which have encompassed a range of stereotypical ‘female traits’ of caring, empathy and collaboration, listening to a broad range of diverse views and communicating effectively with the public. These traits have been seen to build trust, transparency and accountability at a time of significant global confusion and panic.

Trust: the long serving Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, stood up early and calmly told her countrymen that this was a serious bug that would infect up to 70% of the population. “It’s serious,” she said, “take it seriously.” She did, so they did too.

Quick action: by Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan. Back in January, at the first sign of a new illness, she introduced 124 measures to block the spread without having to resort to the lockdowns that have become common elsewhere.

Clarity and decisiveness: Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand was early to lockdown and crystal clear on the maximum level of alert she was putting the country under—and why. She imposed self-isolation on people entering New Zealand astonishingly early.

Using technology and social media: under the leadership of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir Iceland offers free coronavirus testing to all its citizens, and instituted a thorough tracking system that meant they did not have to lock down or shut schools.  While Sanna Marin the world’s youngest head of state when elected in Finland, demonstrated the skills of a millennial leader in action, spearheading the use of social media influencers as key agents in battling the coronavirus crisis.

Compassion and innovation: Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, used television to talk directly to her country’s children. She was building on the short, three-minute press conference that Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had held a couple of days earlier.

Their rarity as female political leaders with a social caring leadership style, has put these women in the spotlight in a sea of mediocrity and aggressive denial in facing the realities of the Covid crisis.

The analysis of their success is by no means complete and relies, by dint of their rarity, on a small sample of female leaders.  It is also, to use that beloved male sporting analogy ‘a game of two half’s’ with the economic impact as likely to cause significant hardship and distress as the contagion phase.  We can only hope that the characteristics shown by these women can carry through into the global economic stage, as the world seeks to work together to get the world economy and business working again.  The signs, however, are not great, with many of the male dominant G20 leaders seeming to be acting out that other standard from the male playbook of ‘last man standing’, with very self-interested and self-absorbed approaches.

It ironic that following the ‘Financial Crisis’ of 2008, the world was saved from another ‘Great Depression’, by the largely male dominated G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors ‘call to arms’, where they worked as one in concert and collaboration to inspire the G20 leaders to co-ordinate and stimulate the world economy to grow again.  Notwithstanding that they have much less room to manoeuvre this time, it is difficult at this point, to envisage a similar response from the current global leaders to this crisis, characterised as they are by blame and isolationist approaches, they look more like more subversives than saviours.

It is putting a significant burden on the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as a key G7 leader, to spearhead this charge alone.  Perhaps the newly installed EU female leadership of Ursula von der Leyen as Head of the European Commission and Christine Lagarde as leader of the European Central Bank will add to the proceedings, especially as recent remarks by Christine Lagarde suggest she ‘buys in’ to the concept of caring collaborative female leaders making a difference.

What is clear is that one country alone is unlikely to re-ignite the global economy and it will take those characteristics of collaboration and communication demonstrated by the ‘super seven’ to see us safely through the ‘second half’ of the epidemic.

It is also clear that the adversarial political environments characterised by many of our major economies is less conducive to a collaborative consensus approach, whoever is in charge.  It is noteworthy that the majority of the ‘super seven’ have developed and grown in cultures which are more socially orientated with consensus-based politics of coalitions, where compromise and diversity of thinking and inclusion are to the fore.

While the case for women leaders is at this stage more anecdotal than data driven, we can only hope that more women are energised and inspired by the ‘super seven’ to step forward to make a difference and join into the political leadership process.

However, the shift to a less adversarial political process from the “winner takes all approach,” is challenging and problematic, with too many political parties, and backers still focused on getting women to behave more like men if they want to lead or succeed.  As articulated by Alice Evans a sociologist at King’s College London who studies how women gain power in public life, this can be difficult for women to meet as “There is an expectation that leaders should be aggressive and forward and domineering. But if women demonstrate those traits, then they’re seen as unfeminine” “That makes it very difficult for women to thrive as leaders.”

As we address more global issues, a consensus style of leadership will become increasingly valuable, with global threats from climate change escalating, creating more ‘natural crisis,’ together with an almost certain greater sensitivity to pandemics.  These types of issues cannot be dominated and cowered into submission, they do not respond to the “classic self-obsessed leadership projection of power, acting aggressively and showing no fear.”

These role models of strong female leaders succeeding in a global crisis, send out a strong message to all political leaders.  With their success their political status has, grown with their characteristics of curiosity, humility, empathy, and integrity, becoming a benchmark of effective political leadership.

Article first shared here.