Governance NZ

Truth about Governance: From the founder of Women on Boards NZ

- Dr Rosanne Hawarden

Good evening, Kia ora, Goeienaand, Sawubona

As you can tell from my accent, I am an Afro-Kiwi, one of an often overlooked ethnic minority of about 14% in New Zealand. I have lived in Christchurch for over 25 years. This international governance organisation has been my professional home both here and in South Africa.

Thank you for acknowledging my role as co-founder of Women on Boards NZ but the real thanks should go to Governance New Zealand (GNZ) for recognising the opportunity the Women on Boards group presented when it became necessary to merge with a better resourced organisation. 

I wish to thank the late Chris Luoni, President of GNZ at the time and the then chief executive, Linda Noble for whole heartedly embracing the opportunity. We are here today because of their foresight. Incidentally Chris brought our current President and Women in Governance Chair, Julie Hardaker into the fold. He was a good judge of people.

We are often given advice to follow our passion. These driving forces come about mysteriously with an ongoing compulsion to do it anyway for the love and thrill of it. That is often the only but sufficient reward. 

I spent many hours on understanding why women were not getting onto boards, partly to satisfy my own unfulfilled aspirations and to fulfil the demands of high level scientific doctoral research. This slowly confirmed what I suspected that there were other larger processes at play.

My brief minutes tonight will be spent reminding you about some of truths of governance. 

I will close with a few words which I hope will inspire you to focus more of your life on governance matters and to hang in there, as I know its not an easy road to travel.

Governance is the nice surprise at the end of an illustrious career when new vistas and possibilities open up. However, the science shows it's a numbers game for both male and female directors. 

It's those 10,000 hours of practice on boards and committees of all sorts in many organisations from large to small, that make the difference in getting those coveted board appointments.

You must start early, in your 30 and 40 to get this amount of experience. Starting at fifty is too late.

Never turn down a governance opportunity, especially if you are a woman, as fewer will come your way. You may be throwing yourself into a can of worms, but at least you will recognise the next rotten can when you see it. 

You will also gain valuable insight into the toxic people who love the power, prestige and payment that comes with the job.

Knowing how not to do governance is as valuable as how to do it.

Do not beat yourself up if you feel your particular governance potential is not being recognised. It's not personal failure but usually a combination of circumstances beyond your control.

Network science shows that director networks have a specific form, called a scale free network. Whatever the size of the director network they all look the same. 

80% of directors will only ever have one substantial board appointment, while 20% of directors will have 80% of the board appointments. The rich get richer is the rule and it's always inequitable.

If you are one of those who have broken the glass ceiling with your first listed directorship, don't kid yourself its due to your own great personal abilities. Your peers are just as well qualified, and it is likely you had an additional attribute that pushed you above the parapet of selection, that is celebrity status of some sort or family connections, putting you in the right place at the right time.

In closing let me paraphrase a great golf movie currently on the circuit, The Phantom of the Open. There is a Phantom of Governance here tonight too.

99% of you present will not be winners.

The fact that you are here says worlds about you, your guts and determination.

Governance systems are designed to disappoint the majority of the participants but somehow, they work. Like democracy they are full of flaws, but they are the best we have to run corporates and smaller organisations successfully.

Thank you for aiming high and putting in the hard yards to ensure better governance in all our workplaces.

I salute you all.

This article was originally presented at the Women in Governance Awards 2022 gala dinner and published on LinkedIn.