Mark Verbiest has been the Chair of Spark’s Board of Directors since 2011, a team with more than 30% female representation (compared to a national average of 17% on private sector boards). He has recently announced his retirement, and will hand over the role to Justine Smyth at the end of 2017. Mark took the time to share his highs and lows on the way to board diversity with Global Women.
Global Women: Why is gender diversity important to your organisation?
Mark Verbiest: I start with the premise you should want the best people. To me it is a no-brainer that unless you consider the totality of talent available within and outside an organisation you are running a significant risk that you are unlikely to get the best people. Gender diversity (and indeed broader diversity) is also critical particularly if you sell services to a wide range of New Zealanders. Finally, in my experience, better decisions result from diverse views, being expressed and worked through. The end result- better financial outcomes, better engagement with staff and customers, and a more sustainable business- and it is the right thing to do!
I would strongly argue we have achieved better outcomes [through having a diverse board]. The conversations on strategic matters have been much broader than they could have been if everyone came from similar backgrounds or experience.
GW: How do you attract and recruit for a diverse board?
MV: The first step is to ensure diversity is front of mind, and consciously taken into account in all recruiting decisions. That includes instructions given to headhunters as well as active discussion at the board. It is also critical that the culture is such that candidates can see that diversity and open and frank dialogue is the mantra that exists at the board table.
GW: What do you see as your role in achieving and maintaining a diverse board?
MV: Ensuring that diversity is actively considered when making appointment choices, ensuring that in discussion all members of the board are contributing to discussion, and that there is such a strong level of respect among all directors for each other, that frank and open conversation is relished.
GW: What challenges have you faced in achieving and maintaining a diverse board?
MV: It hasn’t been that hard for me as I have always sought to be involved with people who are broad thinkers. Critically, the key is an open-minded bunch of people who are making the decisions- men and women. One challenge that has manifested itself in my mind is a lack of experienced women engineers that would work well in governance role in appropriate situations. They are small in number. This results from the smaller percentage of women that traditionally have qualified as engineers. I have no doubt the same applies to some other vocations and professions. It is important that educators and career advisers play a role in ensuring greater numbers of women are encouraged to consider broader career choices and skill sets, and that this then results in a greater pool of women talent that can be considered over time for leadership roles.
Read more about gender diversity on boards in our article Let’s Kick-Start Progress on Board Diversity