Bruce Irvine, who has been involved in the Institute of Directors’ Mentoring for Diversity Programme since 2012, says his primary driver for being a mentor is not for personal gain.
“Historically, there has been a bias of the pool in terms of gender, ethnicity and age in board memberships,” he says.
“My main driver is to make sure we are broadening the pool so that the capability of the people coming through is reflective of the diverse nature of the community we operate in,” says Irvine, a chartered fellow of the IoD.
Irvine is director of Heartland Bank and of several enterprises that include Britten Motorcycle, PGG Wrightson and Rakon International. He was managing partner from 1995 to 2007 before his retirement from Deloitte in 2008, to become an independent director.
“A board is stronger through the diversity of thought and skills that can come from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, ages, gender and skill sets,” he says.
The community we are in is far more digital than it was 10 years ago, so we need skills that reflect that community
“The community we are in is far more digital than it was 10 years ago, so we need skills that reflect that community.”
The first three years of the Mentoring for Diversity programme linked women directors (mentees) with chairmen and senior directors (mentors) from NZX and large company boards.
The focus was on women, because there was such an obvious imbalance on boards, according to the IoD.
Two years ago, the focus of the programme was widened, as research has shown a board of directors that can offer different perspectives are more likely to consider a wider range of alternatives.
Mentees should have a solid track record in executive management/board advisory roles plus board experience, and have the capability and capacity to be offered a place on the board of an NZX company or organisation of similar size.
“I am of the view very strongly that we must only choose the best people for the job,” says Irvine.
“So we need to make the pool of who are the best people for the job more reflective of the diversity of the community. It is a long programme. But what you have got to do is start with people who are younger and build capability and skills.”
His mentees are allocated to him and he has mentored people from different backgrounds that include ethnicity, age and skill sets.
“What is positive for them is that I think the programme, the process, helps them make a decision about whether or not this is the right thing for them.
“I have had at least one mentee where halfway through, realised this is not what she should be doing. We agreed it wasn’t. We spent time channeling her energies into the areas that really interested her, which was not governance.”
It was a different case for with another mentee, who was ready to go for a board position.
“She is now already proving to be quite successful in gaining new governance appointments."
Irvine says the mentoring involves six or seven meetings, lasting one to two hours each.
"We talk through different opportunities and the types of boards they want to get into.”
“I have found my own skill set has been enriched by and improved by the interaction we are having,” he says.
“I am your traditional director, middle-aged, white male,” he states. “I actually learn from my mentees because they bring a different perspective.
“I get a buzz that most of the mentees still keep in touch with me and every now and then we have an update,” he says. “They seek my advice and so I get a lot of satisfaction just seeing those people grow and develop.”
As to insights to ensure a mentoring relationship will work, he says, the first thing a mentor should do is establish very clearly what the aspiration of the mentee is.
“Sometimes it is different to what you think it is,” Irvine says. “You really need to dig deep early on and say, 'what is it you want to do that you need assistance in getting to'?
Don’t just assume that they want to be a director, says Irvine.
“Once you know what their aspirations and designs are, challenge them about how they are going about it. What are they doing, what are they thinking, to make sure they do have the skill set required around the board table to be an effective director.
“You must challenge them all the time, because once they are in a governance role, it is not easy. You just do not turn up to morning tea and say ‘yes’ to everything.
“You are supposed to be there challenging the discussions and making sure that they get better outcomes,” he says.
“There is a lack of good skilled directors in this country and for the right person, you need to encourage them, because these things don't just fall on your lap. You actually have to work hard to get them.”
“A lot of people think, 'oh, I am getting close to retirement or something. Here is an easy job'. In fact, the personal liability and the personal strain and stress on you from being a professional director is very high and you need to understand fully what you are getting yourself into."
Irvine tells his mentees not to get disillusioned when they do not get the board roles they applied for.
“Let them know it is not the skills that they have got that is the issue, it is probably the match. Somebody had a better match...Once you have got those matches, you will get recognised. Once you are recognised, you will be on your way.”
Mentoring is almost the opposite of coaching. You are helping the person to be able to teach themselves by asking them challenging questions
'Mentoring is very cool'
Katherine Sandford is an IoD member based in Tauranga, but has lived and worked in France, UK, Germany and the United States.
“I have been on a journey for the past couple of years to develop my governance capability and ultimately become a professional director,” says Sandford, who is one of the mentees on the IoD programme this year.
She is currently a trustee at the Bay of Plenty Garden and Art Festival and an advisory board member at Cucumber.
She says she was fortunate to have worked for the tech company Trimble, from 1991 to 2014, and watched it grow from US$100 million to US$2.5 billion.
Thus, she can provide insights into taking a long-term strategic view, with an understanding from a governance view the challenges companies will face in going international.
This includes what is needed from a strategy and culture perspective to be able to succeed in going global.
“I see a lot of smaller New Zealand business who want to go offshore and I can add value there from a governance perspective.”
She credits having mentors over time as she built her career.
“I really benefitted a lot from having those mentors especially when I brought my family offshore. They helped me navigate through that, being wife, mother and executive at the same time.”
She says she continues to be a mentor within the corporate environment and also from a community perspective.
“There is so much to learn from people you are mentor for,” says Sandford.
“I spend a lot of time with younger people who are starting their careers and they all are so enthusiastic. I love their passion for what they think they can contribute and having some connection to that is quite energising in its own right.
“I have got people I have been a mentor for over the past 10 years. I bump into them once in awhile and reflect on some of the good things I have helped them achieve. That is incredibly rewarding.”
“Mentoring is very cool.”
Like Irvine, she also learns from her mentees. “You are not there to tell them what to do, you are there to challenge them and to help them see for themselves what they are capable of.”
She says mentoring is different from coaching.
People in management and leadership roles do a lot of coaching with their teams, she says.
“Mentoring is almost the opposite of coaching,” she believes. “You are helping the person to be able to teach themselves by asking them challenging questions and encouraging them to try something else, which might lead them to seeing the light in terms of what they want to do. I love it.”
Recognise that time away from the workforce does not mean going back to square one and that, although you can't pick up where you left off, no one benefits when those returning to the workforce are harshly penalised for the time away
Learning from other professions - and algorithms
The Institute of Directors has urged NZX listed companies to set gender diversity targets to improve the sobering board gender statistics.
According to the IoD, 77 per cent of the top 122 NZX companies have less than 30 per cent of women directors on their boards, while 39 companies from the top 122 have no women at all on their boards.
This lack of diversity in board of directors ranks is mirrored in another sector - information technology - where in many instances there are only traditional candidates to choose from in the next tier down from senior leadership, observes Gartner.
In a research paper, Diversity's Role in an Effective Digital Workplace Programme, Gartner analysts Debra Logan and Carol Rozwell suggest learning from other professions on fostering diversity and inclusion.
Although women make up only about one-third of the workforce in law and medicine, their numbers have been increasing in the decades since 1970, they note, citing figures from a Wall Street Journal article.
''There are, however, still pay gaps and a lack of female leadership in both fields — for example, partners in law firms. If we contrast this with the numbers of females entering STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programmes and in entry-level IT positions, we find that the number has declined steadily since its peak in 1984,'' they state in the report.
“The success that the medical and legal professions have had in recruiting and retaining nontraditional candidates, seems to be the result of recognition that shifting demographic patterns requires them to pay attention to diversity in education, training and hiring,” they point out.
“The above two professions also recognise that time away from the workforce does not mean going back to square one and that, although you can't pick up where you left off, no one benefits when those returning to the workforce are harshly penalised for the time away.”
The Gartner analysts also recommend using more objective methods of screening and interviewing candidates.
Algorithms can transform recruitment processes by replacing reliance on both recruiters' intuition and automated résumé evaluation based on word matching, with insights gleaned over time from analysis of large datasets, according to Logan and Rozwell.
Organisations can also ask recruiters to send resumes that contain only qualifications.
“Leaving out names, addresses and dates of birth is a good start,” they state. “Although age can be estimated from a person's work history, at least you are making an attempt to overcome judgments based on visible characteristics.”
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