Cape Town - Research shows that a gender balanced board
increases creativity and ideas, enhances problem-solving and improves corporate
financial performance, says Sandra Burmeister, CEO of the Landelahni
There’s growing recognition of the valuable role women can
play as directors of companies, but the rate of progress remains slow.
The number of female directors on boards of listed companies
in SA, the USA and UK is only around 15%.
Burmeister believes that women can - and should - take
proactive steps to prepare themselves for a directorship and to improve their
odds against their male counterparts.
“Today’s leaders require strategic thinking skills and the
ability to understand markets beyond their immediate scope of activity,” she
says. “Aspiring professionals and executives need to expand their horizons and
skills and to extend their career opportunities if they are aiming for a board
“Leadership depends not only on the depth but also on the
breadth of experience that will enable you to cope with the fast rate of change
in today’s global markets. Board directors need to possess not only outstanding
business skills, but also extraordinary personal qualities and commitment.”
Burmeister gives the following tips on how women can develop
1. Develop the right capabilities
“The critical success factors for a non-executive director
on a JSE-listed company board are relevant work experience, deep industry
knowledge and specialist skills, commercial experience in a large company and
being informed on issues of corporate governance,” says Burmeister.
“Many board members say their most useful career experience
taught them how to think strategically and that this was honed while managing
complex situations which they faced in senior roles.
“So develop your executive experience by running
subsidiaries or divisions. Focus your attention on the success of your team.
That is a cornerstone for a successful career. Have the confidence to speak out
on hard issues; this demonstrates your ability to approach complex issues
strategically and develops your credibility as a leader. And be confident about
presenting your skills experience and capabilities.”
2. Find a mentor
Find yourself a mentor in the workplace who can assist in
your advancement to senior positions and who may also serve as a career
champion and sponsor. in the workplace who can assist in your advancement to
senior positions and who may also serve as a career champion and sponsor.
“Use strategic networks so the ‘right people’ can see you in
action making a valuable contribution,” says Burmeister. “Network, network,
network. Directorships are often based on personal recommendations, so make
yourself known at a senior level at work and in areas that are related - even
indirectly - to your job, and seek networking opportunities with former CEOs
and directors. Visibility is important, because if you are known, you tend to
pop up on the radar when a company is looking to fill a position.
“Sitting on small company boards will give you valuable
experience in governance, and also heighten your visibility. Get experience by
volunteering to sit on a board of a non-profit organisation devoted to a cause
you feel passionate about. Sitting on local authority and municipal boards is
also a way of broadening your skills and decision-making.
“Be a leader: Initiate important schemes and special
projects at work and in the community and take leadership positions on the
non-profit boards you join. That’s the best way to differentiate yourself and
stand out from the crowd.
“In the final analysis, an extraordinary board career
depends on three critical elements: playing to your strengths, setting your
passions free, and fitting in comfortably with the culture and work ethos of
your chosen organisation.”