Mary Ann Sieghart knows a thing or two about being on a board with places on the Council of Tate Modern, Ofcom’s Content Board, and the boards of two FTSE quoted companies and an unquoted company. She has a keen eye for the advantages of opening up non-executive appointments: “The idea before that you simply had to wait for your phone to ring or for an email to land in your inbox because somebody happened to have thought of you for a job seems terribly old-fashioned and also just not a very efficient way of finding the right people for a board. Surely it’s better to advertise it to see who might be interested? There may be all sorts of people you wouldn’t have thought of approaching who turn out to be interested and that’s a very good way of improving the diversity of your board as well. And I don’t just mean in a narrow gender sense but age and background and all sorts of things.”
Surely it’s better to advertise it to see who might be interested
The advantages of a diverse board are clear to Sieghart: “You get more fresh ideas; you get less tendency to group-think, quite often your customers are pretty diverse and if you only have one type of person around the boardroom table you’re not going to be understanding them. I think for all sorts of reasons its better to have diversity. It’s not a PC thing.”
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Reaching a diverse range of candidates will necessarily broaden the diversity of board appointments. At the moment this is a challenge for recruitment. As Sieghart says: “You’re just relying on friends of friends around the boardroom table or maybe a headhunter to find you potential candidates. If you advertise it you hugely broaden the pool of possible candidates for the job.” There are other advantages as well: “It also allows people to explain why they think they’d be good at the job because they’re forced to fill out a proper job application. And it’s also self-selecting in terms of motivation because people are only going to apply for a job if they really want to get it whereas the old-fashioned way of tapping people on the shoulder when they might have been reluctant is not going to produce the most enthusiastic board members.”
I think women on the whole are less anxious about asking what superficially appears to be a stupid question that may in the end be the killer question
In Sieghart’s view there are distinct benefits that having a varied board can bring: “In terms of gender diversity I think women on the whole are less anxious about asking what superficially appears to be a stupid question that may in the end be the killer question. Why did nobody on the Northern Rock board actually ask: ‘Well, hang on a minute, why are we lending people 125% of the value of their house? What happens if house prices fall?’ That to me is the obvious question and why did nobody ask it?”
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