Career Conversations by The Careers Company Session 3

Dec 07, 2023

On Wednesday 22nd November, we held our 3rd Career Conversations by The Careers Company, this time looking at how to transition from an ED to a NED role from the point of view of those representing diverse backgrounds. To kick things off, we looked at the case for greater board diversity. Guest speaker, Sarah Pierman then presented on how best to make the transition from ED to NED. We looked at a client case study from work ongoing between The Careers Company and the NHS which aims to build the pipeline of suitable and diverse board candidates. There was plenty of time for lively discussion!


At The Careers Company we are passionate about the importance of representation. That is, who is being seen and heard? Do people from diverse backgrounds have role models to aspire to within the workplace? We discussed the “emotional labour” expended by employees from diverse backgrounds, as they feel they have to leave the very thing that makes them diverse at the door, and try to “fit in”. The moral case for having diverse boards might be obvious, however the data supporting the business case for diverse boards is mixed, and where data supports diverse boards, the evidence is often unclear by being correlational rather than causal, and real diversity of thought is not easy to measure. 


Nevertheless, various approaches have been tried by organisations to increase diversity on boards. A couple of approaches discussed were “shadow boards” and the appointment of associate NED’s, the latter being utilised in the NHS, for example. Continuing with the NHS as an example, the NHS has excellent EDI data however this data shows worrying “disparity ratios” between the diversity of the workforce in general, and the diversity of the boards. The Careers Company aims to address exactly this issue - not just “who gets in” to the workplace but “who gets on” in the workplace. Our Executive Edge mentoring programme is designed to support this.


Looking at the transition from ED to NED specifically, the NED space is generally seen as “easier” to navigate than the “executive pipeline”. However, our excellent speaker, Sarah Pierman, warned against viewing a NED role as merely a “stepping stone” to an ED role, as any organisation deserves good governance and any role comes with its own responsibilities. Dynamic Boards, which Sarah founded in 2020, aims to promote true representation and diversity on boards, not just a “tick box” diversity or tokenism. 


Sarah’s four key points to those looking to transition from ED to NED were:


  1. Start earlier - embarking on a NED role doesn’t have to wait until you are approaching retirement
  2. Be open-minded - consider a sector outside your own whether you are a potential NED or a board looking to recruit
  3. It’s a competitive process - be committed to any role not just seeing it as a “springboard” to something perceived as better
  4. A good ED doesn’t necessarily make a good NED - your role as a NED will be one of advising on what needs to be done but crucially not being the one to put it into action


Let’s keep change happening. We look forward to seeing you at our next networking event!

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