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Inspire Asia Pacific: Female talent pipeline essential to diversity progress

The Inspire network held its fifth annual event on 23rd September 2016 at the Kee Club. More than 40 female leaders from across the region gathered for the lunchtime session, to share lessons on board best-practice and discuss the actions needed to improve board diversity.

Representing a diverse range of sectors female members of the Inspire network were joined by male champions of change to explore how businesses can ensure diversity initiatives reach right into the boardroom.

The Inspire seminar was kicked off by Kirti Lad, Director of Harvey Nash Executive Search Asia Pacific and Co-Founder of the Women's Directorship Programme to explain that Inspire is a powerful platform for change and that now is the time for women to thrive. She then introduced the session's keynote speaker, Donald Brydon, Chairman of the London Stock Exchange and Sage Group and asked him to share his boardroom insights and why he feels diversity is a key component of a successful board.

Donald Brydon discussed his own progression to the boardroom, stating the importance of being an individual in a corporate setting and driving initiatives that will help you gain visibility. He highlighted that in countries such as the UK where the representation of women on boards has increased over recent years, the diversity debate is moving from the boardroom to the pipeline of talent. He pointed out that the increased focus on women on boards has rapidly depleted the female talent pipeline and he urged businesses to take the following steps to ensure the sustainable development of talent:

  • Set-up an internal women's network where employees can share their experiences and insights on career progression

  • Ensure men are involved in these networks so they understand the pressures and challenges that women are facing in their organisation

  • Set objectives for managers that require them to include women on every shortlist for internal promotions

  • Provide unconscious bias training to help people become aware of the deep set stereotypes they have

He also challenged men to 'see a professional first and a gender second.' He highlighted a tendency among men to personify women only as women, rather than viewing them as individuals with unique and varying skills. He emphasised the value of having women on boards to create more diversity of thought and encourage new approaches. He said that progress was being made but we still a long way to go - 'Having one woman on a board is progress, but can often leave her facing increased scrutiny and an uphill battle. Ideally you need to have more than one woman in the room if you want to encourage diversity of thought.'

The conservation then moved onto board priorities and governance, with Donald Brydon sharing that he believes security should be the top agenda item for all boards. He urged directors to have in place a clear prevention and reaction process for attacks, and that these need to encompass both physical and cyber security.

Donald Brydon talked about the importance of setting clear objectives for the board, making clear that without these there is no easy way to measure good or bad performance. He felt that the board needs to be open about what it plans to do each year, and use each meeting to check if progress is being made. He urged boards to focus on strategy, rather than tactics, advising them to not get caught up managing day-to-day activities and instead remaining focused on high-level initiatives.

When it comes to making the transition from executive to non-executive positions, Donald Brydon shared some advice with the audience:

  • The change can be hard - you have to learn how to let people make mistakes

  • Focus more on less - you will go from having 50 problems on your desk, to just a few key issues to focus on

  • Try not to re-prioritise the work of the executive team - focusing too much on one topic or asking lots of questions can cause executives to shift their focus away from other key issues

  • Try not to be defensive - as a board member you need to be open to debate and learn 'how to disagree in an agreeable way'

Donald Brydon's call to action for everyone in the audience was, 'Decide exactly what it is you want and focus on raising your profile so people know that you're the person who's going to make it happen.'

The next Hong Kong Inspire event is planned for 2017. Please stay tuned for more updates.

About Inspire:

Inspire is Harvey Nash's executive business network of board-level women. Launched in 2008 with the aim of promoting female leadership, the network has over 6,000 members across the UK, Continental Europe, the U.S. and Asia Pacific. The cross-industry network aims to enable members to contribute ideas, share knowledge and best practice and hear from senior business leaders, providing a forum for support and career guidance.

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Posted on September 30, 2016 10:17 AM |