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Navigating Boardrooms: What does it really mean to serve on a board?

On March 16, 2023, YWLC Alumni and BoardAgender (an initiative under the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations) co-hosted, for the first time, a panel on the topic of what it really means to serve on a board. The event brought together panellists Jacqueline Chan, Partner at Milbank LLP; Karen Loon, Non-Executive Director at BoardAgender, Ex-PwC Partner; and Raen Lim, Vice-President of Asia at Splunk, BoardAgender Mentee, who shared their experiences and insights on serving on boards of various organisations. The insightful discussion was moderated by Lynn Er, Managing Director at Värde Partners.

The discussion shed light on important considerations when taking on positions on boards. These include: conducting necessary due diligence before taking on a board position, fostering transparency and open dialogue, and creating value through diverse contributions. Three key takeaways from the event include:

Doing sufficient due diligence and acknowledging personal responsibilities

One of the crucial takeaways from the event was the importance of conducting thorough due diligence before embarking on a board position. The panellists emphasised the need to have a comprehensive understanding of personal liabilities involved, and the potential risks associated with situations where the organisation may experience reputational damage. They stressed the significance of seeking information from multiple sources to gain insights into a company's values, finances, business model, and current situation.

Preparing oneself for a board position also requires careful consideration of whether one’s values and experiences align with the desired board role and organisation. In this regard, Raen highlighted the distinction between a board position curriculum vitae and a regular job application. She underlined the need for thoughtful consideration in selecting and presenting experiences to highlight when crafting a board CV.

By delving beyond surface-level research and acknowledging personal responsibilities and liabilities, women can equip themselves with the necessary knowledge and preparedness to make informed decisions and contribute effectively to boards.

Setting the right tone to foster transparency and open dialogue

Building a board culture that promotes transparency and open dialogue emerged as another key takeaway. The panellists underscored the importance of establishing an environment where team outcomes take precedence over individual recognition. Trust was identified as a fundamental element that enables constructive challenge and collaboration. Effective communication and the ability to engage in difficult conversations were emphasised as essential attributes for board members.

Karen added that nurturing relationships with fellow directors outside of formal board meetings can be fostered through personal calls. In fact, careful consideration should be given to whether challenging opinions should be done upfront or in a private setting.

By setting the right tone, boards can cultivate an atmosphere that encourages diverse perspectives, constructive feedback, and robust discussions. This approach ultimately enhances the decision-making process and contributes to the overall effectiveness of the board.

Creating value through diverse contributions

Thirdly, the event emphasised the importance of creating value through diverse contributions. Panellists highlighted the need for thoughtful reflection and the power of asking the right questions. They encouraged attendees to bring their unique skill sets, experiences, and perspectives to the table. The speakers emphasised that board members should aim to contribute in ways that are productive and aligned with the organisation's goals.

Additionally, the panellists discussed the value of providing operational support, leveraging subject matter expertise, and promoting diversity in board composition. By embracing diverse contributions, boards can benefit from a broad range of ideas, insights, and perspectives that drive organisational growth and success.

Jacqueline provided a captivating account of her involvement on the board of a non-profit organisation, wherein she played a pivotal role in guiding the organisation through a meticulous thought process to ascertain the most appropriate course of action. Her ability to think critically and strategically, combined with her understanding of the organisation's mission, allowed her to offer insightful perspectives that transcended her legal expertise.

The collaboration between YWLC and BoardAgender resulted in an insightful event that provided valuable takeaways for women aspiring to serve on boards. It served as a powerful reminder of the importance of empowering women in leadership and the positive impact they can have on boards and organisations as a whole.

BoardAgender is an initiative of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organizations. It was started in 2011 to increase the participation of women on boards and help them contribute in meaningful ways.


Organising Team: Jia Yun Wong

Author & Artwork: Rachel Tan

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