Improving board diversity has never been more critical. Nurole is partnering with WomenExecs on Boards (WEoB) to broaden the candidate pool that organisations hire from. WEoB is a global network of Harvard Business School-prepared women with corporate board, C-suite and/or senior executive experience. The alliance will further diversify the Nurole network and connect WEoB’s highly-qualified members with organisations that need their skills and experience.

To launch the partnership, we’re interviewing some of the network about their board experiences. First up is Rosie Bichard, the Co-President of WEoB and an experienced buy-side analyst, investor and board member. Through Nurole, she joined the Independent Governance Committee (IGC) of Royal London in 2020.

How did you find the shift from an executive career into the boardroom?

In my professional career, I have had quite a lot of input to boards. For example, as a buy-side analyst, I was responsible for our shareholdings – most of which were very long-term and quite significant – in some large consumer companies. I would regularly meet the Chairs, or other members of the board at least annually, to discuss a wide range of topics.

And so I started to appreciate the way that those boards worked, and the kind of input that they had from shareholders, as well as from the management teams and other stakeholders. My non-profit board experience was also helpful in developing a more advisory approach.

What skills are most useful for sitting on a board?

I think the ability to synthesise a lot of information and then zoom out again. That’s something I'd done over the course of my career as an analyst as well – being presented with a whole new company, or a whole new set of circumstances, that you have to think about and draw some conclusions as to the long term.

In my board work, particularly at Royal London, the temptation is to get very stuck in the details. Actually you have to step back and keep reminding yourself of the mission of the IGC, which is to provide oversight for members of pension schemes on whether Royal London is providing value for money.

It's a really big picture governance question, and we have a set of principles that guide us in our thinking. So rather than worrying whether you can understand this set of projections or whether you think that report is well-written, you need to ask, has this plan been properly thought through? Is it in line with our objectives? Is Royal London considering its customers properly in this proposition? What else would the FCA want us to discuss?

What parts of sitting on a board do you most enjoy?

You can contribute to an organisation's growth and development in a different way, and actually help influence the long-term direction.

At Royal London I was appointed to the IGC because of my knowledge of responsible investment. And so I've been asked to really think about whether ESG matters have been taken into account in the investment decision-making, as it relates to workplace pensions. With that hat on, I can also see what the group's strategy is in relation to responsible investment, and join the dots, not just at that organisation, but also across the market.

How can organisations ensure that ESG is embedded into the way they work, not just a nice set of intentions?

That's an incredibly important question. A good anchor is to use the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. And when you're considering your organisation's purpose, the board needs to think very hard about which of the SDGs the company can contribute to. It’s usually only a couple, and it's much better to have a narrow focus than a broad one. And that focus lets you craft your purpose as a company around it.

When it works, it's an extremely powerful tool. It's a way of engaging employees, of making sure that your strategy is constantly aligned with your broader purpose, and it's a good decision-making framework for both the short and the long-term.

Do you think COVID-19 will boost ESG strategies, or will they be sidelined as organisations struggle to survive?

At the start of the pandemic I was really concerned – given the political environment in so many countries and the fact that company budgets were being cut – that ESG would be seen as a nice-to-have.

But actually I've been very encouraged by all kinds of organisations and coalitions really being determined that now is the time to act. I have seen a lot of hopeful signs that companies are thinking more deeply about their purpose, and it’s so important going forward that business continues to lead the way.

When it comes to diversity, how can boards speed up their progress?

Firstly, now boards are being mandated, or persuaded, to find diverse talent, it's about women who are available and qualified (of which there are many) being "discoverable." That has clearly proved hard for the traditional model to achieve, as we are less likely to be found on the golf course, sitting across from male decision makers, put forward by sponsors, in headhunters' networks etc. By forming our network and setting up partnerships with groups like Nurole, Eleven Canterbury, and Equilar, we are trying to help achieve that process of discovery.

Secondly, we need to keep building that pipeline, by removing obstacles to women's careers, helping them progress, encouraging them to be more strategic in their career decisions and planning, building a network of like-minded peers and sponsors, helping them think like board members and gain more experience.

How do you hope WEoB can help with that?

Our vision is that we can position our members to serve on corporate boards. And we do that because we work together. It's very much a collaborative organisation – connectivity is our number one value. And then we are 100% committed to each other's success. That means we want to make sure that the women coming up behind us – and the rest of our group – get on boards, and that we're not just thinking about ourselves. We've just recently had two examples of women who have joined boards and then brought another woman from our group onto the same board, which is fantastic.

When I talk to the other members of the group, I'm constantly amazed by what they've achieved, and how valuable they could be as contributors, but sometimes there's still a block and they just can't quite get their first role.

We need to try and tap into this moment. There are initiatives in the US like the NASDAQ mandate for more diverse boards, and Goldman Sachs saying they're only going to take companies public if they've got at least one woman on the board. Private equity is moving too, so this is really gathering pace. But it's not just that we're women – it’s much more about the fact that we can really add value to boards by bringing more diverse ways of thinking.

Nurole provides best-in-class hiring for forward-thinking boards. We blend the power and reach of technology with a very human understanding that every role, every organisation and every candidate is different. Contact us to discuss your next hire or find out more about becoming a member here.