Voluntary sector could boost numbers of women on boards

woman presenting at board meeting


Women chief executives from the voluntary sector could help to boost the number of women serving on private sector boards, says Cass Business School.

It is working with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) on a seminar series for outstanding female chief executives from the voluntary sector who are interested in serving on private sector boards. The series, which is by invitation one, runs from April to June and Cass is providing it on a pro-bono basis.

In his report on boosting the number of women on top level boards, Lord Davies said they could be strengthened by adding senior women from government, academia, the professions and entrepreneurial backgrounds.

Cass, which has a long history of engagement with the voluntary sector, is eager to highlight the potential of the sector’s senior women. It says: “These women typically bring a wide breadth of knowledge to the table – charities are leaders in accountability, demonstrating impact, building public trust, motivating staff, stakeholder engagement, and the need to produce high quality results to a strict bottom line. Often they do this in competitive and international environments.”

The seminars, led by Cass faculty with direct experience of key PLC issues, cover subjects key to private sector board work which differ in the voluntary sector. These include corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, the latest thinking in commercial strategy and governance.

Candidates have been identified and approached by NCVO.  They are RNIB CEO Lesley-Anne Alexander, Action on Hearing Loss CEO Jackie Ballard, Canal and River Trust Vice Chair and Cass Senior Visiting Fellow Lynne Berry OBE, St John Ambulance CEO Sue Killen, Oxfam GB CEO Dame Barbara Stocking, Action for Children CEO Dame Clare Tickell, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust CEO Julia Unwin CBE.

Sessions will be followed by working dinners where the group will be joined by relevant City invitees. The meals are sponsored by executive search firms, who will be represented, giving the seminar participants opportunities to network with the people who fill private sector board vacancies.

Cass Dean Richard Gillingwater CBE says: “The UK voluntary sector has a number of exceptional individuals who have proved themselves by leading complex, innovative and performance-oriented organisations delivering in turbulent environments. Some of these organisations operate in the toughest countries overseas; the turnover of some exceeds £100m. These chief executives have learned how to lead thousands of people in highly ethically conscious environments; how to earn and keep the public’s trust and manage valuable brands; how to grapple with governments while preserving independence; and – fundamentally – how to thrive in an income-uncertain world while sticking close to purpose.

quot;This initiative could make a real difference to the diversity of experience as well as gender on major FTSE boards within twelve months.  Although there are positive examples such as BT’s appointment of Jasmine Whitbread, CEO of Save The Children International, to its main board last year, there is evidence that FTSE 100 boards do not always have a good grasp of how big the challenges of running a large voluntary organisation are.”

Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of NCVO, said: “This initiative reflects a broad consensus across the main political parties and many business and investor groups in support of “responsible capitalism”. It is an excellent example of how we can practically support talented women with vast experience in the voluntary sector to get significant roles in companies across the UK.  We were pleased to be involved in this programme from the very beginning as it addresses two key issues – gender equality across UK PLC and the contribution the voluntary sector can make to the decisions taken by our most successful companies.”

Lynne Berry OBE, who is both participating in the series and carrying out a piece of research based on the participants’ experiences, says: “Women in the voluntary sector are trying to break through a glass silo rather than a glass ceiling.  The women we are talking about are extremely experienced at both executive and non executive level on public and voluntary boards.  Between them they have run some of the largest organisations in this country, but the corporate sector has been slow to recognise the relevance of their skills.”

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