Inspiring another conversation
For some decades the principles of FAIRNESS and EQUAL REPRESENTATION were supposed to drive the anticipated change in the composition of boards. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough. Thankfully both academic and economic research has brought forward plenty of evidence that having women on boards and in leadership roles does ADD VALUE. Their leadership style and skills as well as the added value of bringing together diverse sets of minds, skills and competences have proven to be a POSITIVE CONTRIBUTION. Promoting more women and strategically diverse competencies onto boards IS A GOOD THING – delivering better problem solving and better results.
The argument and value of diversity stands firm today. But we need to continue our efforts in making it all happen. We need to accelerate HOW we change the leadership composition for the future – particularly in the private sector. That is why the Nordics is such an interesting place to follow these years:
Norway regulates, Sweden collaborates, and Denmark educates
Over the past 20-30 years we have seen some interesting developments across the Nordic region in relation to women in board and leadership positions. The public sector has experienced a hefty increase in women in power. Female politicians and Presidents are no longer a rare phenomenon. Gro Harlem Brundtland from Norway and Vigdis Finnbogadottir from Iceland led the way as early role models. The private sector however is lacking behind:
In Norway quotas were implemented early on and has increased the number of women on boards in particularly the largest and listed companies. Tired of waiting for the remaining part of the private sector to transform, the Minister of Commerce has now proposed that an even larger share of all corporations in Norway must adhere to quotas. Norway is enroute to extend the quotas to MME and SME companies in 2024.
In Sweden the number of female representations onboards has slowly grown over the past years. The private sector in Sweden is showing the way slowly by applying alternative measures such as nomination committees, Board education programs such as “Styrelsesakademien” and national female leadership programs such as “Ruter Dam”.
In Denmark the number of women on boards have increased in the largest corporations but lacks behind in MMV and SME. However, Danish board candidates seem to be the most well educated in all of Scandinavia – there is an extensive offerings of different board educations targeted all kinds of segments. However, recruitment processes in relation to particularly the MMV and SME boards are extremely network based and causes a big lag in securing more diverse boards in the Danish private sector. Consequently, Denmark is falling behind both their European and Nordic peers when it comes to female board representation and women in leadership positions.
Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are addressing the same challenge in three different ways – and are still struggling to tap into the huge potential which well-educated and competent women represent. In SelectionF see a great need to support the overall transformation and we do so, first and foremost, by focusing on the women and their transformative journey:
Inspiring more women to take on board positions
During corona we interviewed more than 400 women to find out what to do. It became clear that providing relevant services to female board candidates which could empower their personal journey onto more boards was a strong approach. It became very clear they were all looking for – INSPIRATION and REASSURANCE.
Almost every conversation we had with these highly qualified women started with an expression of gratitude. Gratitude for showing an interest in them and recognizing them for their ambition and board competencies. Most of them found themselves very much on their own with their dreams. Many shared their frustrations about where to find open board positions: which magazine or what website to monitor or what people to speak to etc. Not knowing where or how to apply for board positions was an ongoing part of our dialogues. More had to be done and hence we started the Personal Branding/Board CV Workshop as well as the Strategic Networking workshop.
Bringing women together to discuss their own personal branding and strategic contribution to the board as well as ideas and methods of extending their networks has proven to have a tremendous impact. Meeting regular hardworking and competent women without the fuss and the glamour brings the bar to a level where more women start believing “if she can – then can I”. Sharing the not so glossy stories and challenges in developing a board career has become an integrated part of SelectionF and has become a great value-ad for most of our candidates.
A progressive learning environment
Across the Nordic region the total number of women with board experience are still only in the low thousands. Still TOO FEW women are actively seeking to contribute in this context and we need to grow the total number. Extending the talent pool and showcasing relatable role models are critical initiatives. At SelectionF this is what we do. We encourage a learning environment and clear development paths.
Some of the up-and-coming female board candidates may be less experienced in working within and towards a board since they have predominantly worked as functional directors, VP’s or EVP’s. Utilizing the network and shared brain trust which SelectionF candidates represent has proven to be extremely valuable to share board experiences and tips and tricks.
To this matter our podcasts and personal profile stories have become highly appreciated learning tools for women who are still growing their board experience and platform. Hearing and reading about others’ experiences has proven very valuable.
In addition to this building close relations to experienced chairpersons is important. Learning the ropes on the fly in the boardroom has always been the way to grow board competencies. Therefore, building relations to the most experienced and successful chairpersons and board profiles is an important task.
Together with our partners and network we conduct and host events where female candidates and experienced chairmen can meet and build relations. “Meet-and-Greet” as well as “Matchmaking” events for experienced board members and up-and- coming talent is important either way.
Extending the competency pool for modern boards
Focusing on the HOW we can harvest the value of more diverse and competent boards has led to a variety of initiatives and actions which are adding value and helping diversify the board scene in the Nordics.
The number of women in CXO positions is growing rapidly. Increasingly we see women in finance, law, technical, digital and commercial roles climbing the ladders extending the female executive pool of talent. This has proven to be a strong platform for extending the competency pool for modern boards. These women bring strategic competencies from both more complex or directly referable sectors and companies. They have become increasingly interesting candidates for boards looking for specific strategic experience and competencies. They have become very attractive board profiles – especially because of A. their competencies and B. their gender – adding double diversity to the boards.
This is also why we established SelectionF. We believe that by extending the talent pool of board candidates with both female CEO’s and female CXO’s we improve the overall quality of the board candidates available.
Adding value by bringing new profiles onto boards
Recruitment to board positions predominantly happens through professional networks i.e. people whom you get recommended to through relations. Close to 90% of all board recruitments in the Nordic regions happens this way. In other words, the process of recruiting is still subjective and undisclosed. Unless you are well connected it can be hard to be considered for board positions.
Corona again became a blessing in disguise because we had spent the time speaking to most of our candidates and understood their unique competencies in depth. We could easily match every request – often with 8-10 relevant candidates. One chairman came back with jaw dropping feedback – “I have been in the industry for over 20 years. I only knew one of the presented candidates. I am impressed.” Another chairman was pleasantly stunned and stated – “the competencies you presented are spot on – we are happy to welcome our new board member.”
This became the first true breakthrough for SelectionF. All angels of digitalization, new business models focusing on recurring revenue, internationalization, global outlook, M&A experience, sustainability expertise and much more – all competencies requested when we talked to chairmen and boards. We were ready to provide….
Add another chair
The most important point however is – add another chair to the table!
Bringing women onto the board scene is not only about gender and competencies – it is PREDOMINANTLY about opening the door, the room and the relations we share at executive levels:
It’s about RESPECT for a different perspective.
It’s about CURIOSITY for alternative points of view.
It’s about COURAGE for being the one without the answers.
It is about leaving the ZERO sum game and adding another chair to the table because we TRUST in the value of more diverse perspectives.
At SelectionF we encourage boards to raise the bar and add another chair!
Founding partner Mie Krog, country lead Sweden Cecilia Edström, partner Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO and partner Jørgen Rasmussen, country lead Norway Karoline Nystrøm and partner Helle Ørsted