Finding qualified directors who have core competencies in industry expertise, corporate governance, financial acumen and leadership; and also emotional intelligence is not easy.
Most Kenyan boards tend to recycle the same faces year in and year out. But how then do you position yourself to be picked to sit on a board?
Patricia Murugami, a leadership advisor and coach says understanding your skillset and what you are bringing to the board gainfully is the first crucial step.
To get noticed then, you need to raise the standard of your performance wherever you are serving. Being excellent at your work gives you an upper hand when names are being nominated for board positions.
Secondly, understanding which board you can make a significant input on helps you scale down to your precise needs and wants and actively look for ways to serve.
“You need to be interested and have passion for the board you intend to serve,” she says.
Additionally, investing in training and mentorship helps you understand your intended role on the board, how performance is measured and how you can impact the board.
Volunteer on boards
Starting to serve voluntarily on boards such as high school alumni, and estate associations helps you understand the basics of how company boards run, read financial statements and master the art of reading the room.
Dr Murugami also shares that having a board profile, a curriculum vitae in which you align what you have done previously to the skillset your target board is looking to source puts you above the competitors.
“The board profile is usually one page, highlighting key impact areas and your competencies. It should be short, precise, and very direct,” she says.
With boards not advertising for vacancies, Dr Murugami adds that showing off or letting people know the skills you have helps you get noticed with your name popping up behind closed doors. Once you get the board position, be active in the meetings.
“A sitting mindset is one where a board member just wants to be on a board for prestige, earn allowance, collect board positions as trophies, with no succession plan, and one who does not train others so that they do not unseat him or her,” she says.
The decision to diversify the background, age and gender of directors is now key. Companies are making slow progress in demystifying the notion of boardrooms being ‘old boys’ teams.
Female composition in Kenyan boardrooms has risen to 36 percent from 12 percent in 2012, according to a recent Board Diversity and Inclusion Report of 2021 by the Kenya Institute of Management. But this number is still low.
So why is there a gap in women’s representation on boards?
For women to break into the boardroom, they need a mindset shift. Women are seen as implementers while men are leaders.
Catherine Musakali, the founder and chairperson of Women on Boards Network in Kenya says that structural issues have seen women shying away from boards.
“The stereotypic assumption is that women cannot sit on boards. With a division of duties therefore women being given fewer challenging duties,” she says.
Mentoring schemes, aimed at getting more women into board-level positions, can go a long way in increasing the numbers.
There is also the lingering burden of imposter syndrome. More women than men doubt that they fit the role, seek perfectionism, and generally are tough on themselves.
Self-sabotage denies them the opportunity to scale higher and consequently get board positions.
Tokenism has also held back women who believe that they have been appointed because of their gender and not because of their competence.
What can be done?
Pointing out that the few women on boards are often recycled because of the lack of a diversity and inclusion policy, Ms Musakali says that the gender conversation is a policy issue driven from the top and permeates through the structures of the company.
“How are you promoting women within your company? How are you growing their leadership skills? Do you have policies that are gender sensitive?”
Companies ought to embrace gender-friendly policies that seek to ensure that women have flexible work schedules, are trained and mentored, recruited, and have equal pay. These will contribute to having more women top executives picked to the boards.