INSEAD Participant Interview

INSEAD partnership with Women on Boards

Mary Sue Rogers

Board Member of Women on Boards (WoB)

Mary Sue Rogers, a past participant of INSEAD’s International Directors Programme, discusses INSEAD’s partnership with Women on Boards and explains how the programme helped her become a more effective director.

Can you please introduce yourself?

I’m a Non-Executive Director of Women on Boards Australia and a member of the Human Resources Committee of the Board for Save the Children Australia.

My background is in professional services. Previously, I was a Managing Director at Talent2 where I led the Human Resources Managed Services line of business. I also held senior roles at IBM and PwC, where I was responsible for the human resources (HR) portion of the Business Processing Outsourcing division.

As well as my current board work, I run a consultancy that focuses on business transformation, governance, organisational design, and mergers and acquisitions. I advise several organisations across Asia on HR and talent management services and technology.

Tell us a little about Women on Boards. What’s its overall mission?

We are an independent social enterprise, based in Australia and the United Kingdom. We have a proud history of supporting women as they translate their professional skills and experience into non-executive director and other board-level roles. We do that by offering a range of events, programmes, educational resources and networking opportunities that can help to build a pipeline of board-ready women.

We also work across organisations and sectors, and with governments, on a strategic policy and cultural change agenda for gender equity in the boardroom. 

That raises the question of why corporate boards need more women in the first place. Why is diversity so important?

Businesses perform better if they have more diverse boards. A 2016 study from Credit Suisse found that companies with higher female repre­sentation at the board level or in top management exhibit higher returns on equity, higher valuations and higher payout ratios.[1]

Effective boards represent their customers and shareholders, which means they need diversity – in terms of age, nationality, gender, and cultural and social backgrounds. Let’s say you’re a consumer company – if you don’t have a board where 50 per cent of the members are female, how can you possibly sell to the female half of the population? In short, diversity broadens a board’s expertise, insight, agility and ability to manage risk.

All this is fairly well known, yet, globally, the percentage of women on boards is still very low. The same Credit Suisse study estimated female representation at around 10 per cent in Singapore, 14 per cent in Malaysia, 21 per cent in Australia and 23 per cent in the United Kingdom.

There has been some progress over the past decade. Some governments, for instance, are increasingly calling on large companies to close the gender gap at the top of their organisations. Countries such as Norway have set quotas to ensure more gender balance. Yet despite increasing recognition of the value women bring to corporate boards, the march toward gender diversity at board level is still extremely slow.

Women on Boards has chosen to partner with INSEAD to promote the International Directors Programme to its members. Can you tell us why?

The partnership very much fulfils Women on Board’s mission to support our qualified members through high-quality training and education. The programme will provide immediate value to anyone seeking to upgrade their international governance qualifications and become more effective in fulfilling their board mandate or operating in an advisory capacity more broadly.

Why did you choose to enrol in the International Directors Programme?

In 2015, I was looking to transition from being a hands-on director to playing more of a non‑executive role. This required me to learn an entirely different approach to leading and governing. I wanted an executive education programme that could help me do that and considered several in Asia and Europe. However, I picked INSEAD’s programme, based on reviews and feedback from previous students, the high calibre of the faculty and external speakers and – perhaps most importantly – the great diversity of the participants.

Has the programme made you a more effective board member?

Definitely. First, there’s the learning. The programme gave me access to some core tools and frameworks to sharpen my critical thinking on corporate governance issues and hone my judgement skills. Second, I gained a lot from the sheer diversity of the group. My cohort of 30 participants came from more than 20 countries. We were a very broad mix, which led to a lot of sharing of knowledge and invaluable country-specific insights.

At the same time, I really appreciated the fact that we worked off real case studies, where CEOs, heads of family-run businesses and board members came in to talk to us about challenges they’d overcome in running their businesses. We could interact with them and ask questions, which was much more useful than a theoretical approach.

Finally, attending the programme has given me access to the global INSEAD alumni network, which is wonderful. It facilitates the continuous exchange of ideas and best practice and it’s a great resource for things like seeking advice, or even terrific tips on holiday locations.

Do you think the programme has been useful for your development as a women leader, specifically?

The programme is very well balanced. I’d say it’s a great choice for helping both men and women gain the tools to operate as more effective board members. That said, it does provide a platform where women leaders, in particular, can gain a good understanding of issues such as how to manage bias, and where they can build up their skill sets, their confidence levels and their networks.

Having done the programme, you went on to complete INSEAD’s Certificate in Corporate Governance. What are the benefits of holding the certificate?

It allows participants to deepen their understanding of corporate governance issues still further. As a global credential among board members operating internationally, it also attests to a director’s commitment to continuously developing their skills.

Would you recommend the programme to others?

Absolutely. If you want to invest in yourself in terms of developing your knowledge and competencies when it comes to being an effective director, and expand your network, then the programme is excellent.

[1] The CS Gender 300: The Reward for Change, Credit Suisse, 2016.

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