Judy Whiteman

1. What changes have you observed in directorship and governance in your career?

I joined my first board around 1987, a small charitable philanthropic organisation. In some ways it was a baptism of fire! There was none of today’s on-boarding and induction; it was highly political, hugely rewarding, and I learnt a lot. Other executive and non-executive governance roles followed over the years, however this provided me with good governance foundations and lots of learning!

There are three changes in directorship and governance that stand out to me.

Today there is lots of discussion about diversity in the boardroom. This was not so when I started out - corporate boards in my early governance career were strongly male dominated, and women were rare. There has been some movement on this over the years, however, there is still plenty of discussion and comment about the lack of women in governance roles.

Of course, diversity is much broader than gender. It’s also about culture and ethnicity, age, skills and experience, competencies and life experience. Bringing different ways of thinking to the same idea, having healthy debates and a bit of disruption, can lead to better decisions. I don’t think I am alone when I say I am frustrated with how slow the change is around diversity!

For some people, being a director is their career. I recall the days when being a director was portrayed as being for men once they had retired. Of course, there were others for whom this was not the way, however the exaggeration does paint the picture well. Today, being a director is a profession. There are standards to be met around qualifications, skills, experience and competencies. Membership of bodies such as the AICD and IODNZ are encouraged and almost expected.

So much has been written and talked about the role of governance and the boundaries between the board and the CEO/management. It wasn’t talked about much in my early career, however over time I have seen it become a fundamental requirement. Today we all know how important it is to have clarity and agreement about this issue, otherwise there can be misunderstanding and potential conflict around the board table. Experienced directors know that each board is different in the way they implement their governance role.

2. What do you think are the three things that directors must bring to their roles?

  • Being “fit for purpose” for a board, i.e. be financially literate (a must for any director), an understanding of governance and having the appropriate skills and experience the board needs at that time, hopefully identified through a robust board composition/review process.
  • A way of being that reflects the ability to be an independent thinker, be curious and ask the right questions, be a good listener – especially to divergent views – and a good dose of emotional intelligence.
  • Confidence. A board comprises diverse individuals, often with strong personalities, and it is important to feel confident within yourself that you have value to add and can share your views.

3. What advice would you give to others contemplating an overseas move?

Do it! Having worked in Australia, the UK, Hong Kong, Vanuatu and New Zealand, I can say it is one the highlights of my career and shaped who I am today. Working and living in a different country provides such a range of experiences, personally and professionally. You will have an opportunity to learn about yourself and how you adapt to different environments.