What happens when you combine 122 corporate directors sharing their experience and driving for change, 27 programs on being outstanding corporate board leaders, and thousands of our nation's trailblazers?
You have #GetOnBoard Week 2022. Set to catapult fearless women leaders into corporate board seats, this year’s #GetOnBoard Week certainly delivered. In case you missed any of the action or just need a refresher here are the hot trends and recommendations.
Hot trend 1: ESG is in.
ESG is Environmental, Social, and Governance and boards are realizing social change and financial security are no longer seen as separate endeavors, but complementary goals. This sentiment extends further than just environmental goals and encompasses all aspects of ESG work “Our conviction at BlackRock is that companies perform better when they are deliberate about their role in society and act in the interests of their employees, customers, communities, and their shareholders.” This was further reinforced during #GetOnBoard week when Lorraine Akiba brought in the financial risk side of ESG.
Key Recommendation 1: Be present and ask great Questions
Legally, board directors can make wrong decisions, but they can’t be negligent. What does this mean from a practical perspective? Board members must prepare, ask good questions and pay attention to areas of risk. We also need to ensure that all decision making processes are being accurately recorded. Most public company board directors will experience a lawsuit; your attention, asking the right questions, and taking action protects you from much of the personal risk. In 2022 the biggest risk area cited by asset management firms around board governance is ESG. These risks vary across industry, but you need to be having ESG conversations in every committee of the board.
Hot Trend 2: Stakeholder Activism is Up
One of these ESG risks may be related to the increase in stakeholder activism. While taking a stand on certain issues might be obvious for a non-profit or social-good company board, stakeholders are increasingly demanding activism from the companies they associate with. These stakeholders can include employees who are increasingly asking where their company stands on hot issues and are basing their decisions on where to work based on the answer. However, wading the water into political commentary can bring risk, as highlighted by the current legal battles facing Disney. So what should boards do?
Key Recommendation 2: Remember Boards Should Guide, but not Decide on the Direction
Noses in, fingers out. That is the mantra we heard all week. Board members ask great questions that inspire action and decision making, but they aren’t running the day to day. Does this tie into the first recommendation? Yes. Is it a good recommendation? Also, yes. It bears repeating that boards need to help provide insight and guidance to their companies. Make sure your company is having conversations about their values. If a company takes a stance it needs to be authentic.
So ask, what is your company doing holistically to live out this value? And finally remember not taking a stance is sometimes saying just as much as taking a stance.
Hot Trend 3: SPACs are out - and some of you predicted it
Just last year SPACs were on the rise, now they are falling out showing how boards need to be paying attention to current trends. Many of the women we know were cautious when things were hot with SPACs. They asked the hard questions instead of getting on the bandwagon. We see women are bringing the ‘in it for the long haul’, risk-aware approach.
Key Recommendation 3: Invest in Yourself
Trends are just that, trends. Make sure you are continually educating yourself so you can tell what trends are here to stay and what trends may be on the way out so that you are representing the best interests of the company and the stakeholders in the boardroom. Carve out time every week to invest in your continued education. Read the How Women Lead blog, key newspapers, follow How Women Lead and How Women Invest on LinkedIn, and potentially consider getting additional certifications. Also for aspiring directors, consider positioning your value proposition on how you can help a company address issues that are hot trends.
Hot Trend 4: Cyber Attacks are on the Rise
Cybersecurity is being discussed everywhere.
While Cybersecurity month may be over, it is important to consider the question Gail Mosse posed: How do you approach this topic? The 2022 Governance Outlook from the NACD indicates that not only has the number of ransomware attacks increased, but they are increasingly being targeted around major company milestones such as going to IPO and M&As showing how critical it is to be discussing this at the board level.
Key Recommendation 4: Get Cyber in the Boardroom
Cybersecurity isn’t an IT issue it is an enterprise risk management challenge.
Ensure your board is talking about the risk cyber attacks can bring to your company. Ask yourself: what are the assets we need to protect? Do I and the company know what constitutes a legal breach? What obligations do we have if that happens and who is in charge of managing it and who will be the spokesperson for the company? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, make sure it is on your next agenda. If there was one thing we learned about cybersecurity at #GOB Week, it's that if you are waiting for government legislation to protect you, then you are too late.
Hot Trend 5: Going Public is Slowing Down
Changes in interest rates and the volatility of the stock market are causing companies to reevaluate going public. This isn’t a good or a bad thing. As Lara Druyan says "There are great companies, founders, and teams that shouldn't be public. Going public is really hard, it is worth evaluating if you should be public. It is okay to not go public."
Evaluating if this is the right path for the company you are in is important. For those in the boardroom Linda Jenkinson suggests, "Before going public, try to ensure alignment with founders, investors and the board."
It also means that if your company is one that does decide to move forward with going public as a board member you should be helping them prepare for that cultural shift. The same skills that served them as a start-up aren’t going to work as a publicly traded (and scrutinized) company.
Key Recommendation 5: Consider Joining a Start-Up (or non-profit) Board
We know that having any board experience is one stepping stone to landing a corporate board seat. Advisory boards and non-profit boards both help show you know how to lead and collaborate on a board. These board positions are a common first step, but start-up boards offer a unique chance to gain a seat through investment.
If you already have a different type of board seat, start-up boards can still be a good way to flex different boardroom muscles. Start-ups are looking for expertise from people who have been there, you get to help them not only put out fires, but also learn how to plan to avoid them.
So what does this all mean? What’s next?
If venture is your next step (or might be), I can tell you more about investing in our fund and I also encourage you to download How Women (and Men) Invest in Startups to get the latest research and a roadmap to unlocking women’s wealth.
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