By Dr Louise Bright
Associate Director Wales
As part of my role at the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education I have responsibility for listening to Governors and clerks at Welsh universities about their interests and development needs and to provide opportunities for targeted learning which draws upon the expertise within the Leadership Foundation and the pool of Associates that we work with. In May something different happened in Wales.
Using a Governor Development Day on May 7th, we challenged Governors to tackle the complex issue of balancing our boards and we did this by partnering with Chwarae Teg (which means Fair Play in Welsh.) Joy Kent is Chief Executive of Chwarae Teg, an organisation that works to help ensure that women in Wales can enter the workplace, develop their skills and build rewarding careers. Joy explained that by working closely with the government, academics and industry Chwarae Teg influences the development of policies in Wales. So Joy and her team were keen to partner with the Leadership Foundation to provide a day of thought provoking speakers and challenging debate with the aim of diversifying our university boards.
Every university is headed by an effective governing body, which is responsible for overseeing the institutions activities, determining future direction and ensuring that the potential of all learners is maximised. “Our universities are made up of students from diverse backgrounds, however our governing bodies do not reflect this” says Joy. “University Governing Bodies need to be equipped to make the right decisions, ultimately for the students they serve and to do this the governing bodies must be more diverse. A large body of research shows that diversity in leadership results in more effective organisations, more emotionally intelligent leadership, better risk assessment and innovation. It also allows institutions to better reflect the aspirations of their stakeholders – public funders, students, staff and local communities.”
Who Runs Wales? published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission reports that women are largely missing in top decision making roles in all sectors. Sadly in 2014, there were fewer women in the most senior roles than there were ten years ago. That’s why Chwarae Teg joined with leaders from a broad cross-section of Welsh organisations to launch 50/50 by 2020 with the aim of encouraging organisations across Wales to increase the number of women in decision-making positions to a representative 50% by the year 2020. Joy pointed to a report comissioned by Chwarae Teg that highlighted the position of women on boards and senior leadership roles in Welsh Universities. Using this as a benchmark for gender at least, we can monitor progress as we try to balance our Boards.
Professor Julie Lydon, vice-chancellor of the University of South Wales, was the first female Vice Chancellor in Wales. She explained that throughout her career she had been the only woman and was used to dealing with this, a view echoed by Sandra Spray, a Governor at the University of South Wales. Having been a Governor since 2008, Sandra has seen new Governors be appointed and she has chaired Committees including Student Affairs and Human Resources. Both Sandra and Julie felt able to challenge and ask difficult questions whilst being in the minority but accepted that this has taken practice! In Wales there are places where women in particular can go and hone their skills, be mentored and undertake training to improve skills and confidence. For the first time the Leadership Foundation and Chwarae Teg bought these support organisations together with Governors and Clerks.
Women Making a Difference is an organisation that educates and empowers women across Wales to have the skills, confidence, and mindset to become the leaders in their communities and decisionmakers at all levels of public and political life. Amy Preece, Director explained that women who have engaged with her organisation are looking for opportunities to become involved in Boards and that governing bodies could advertise their vacancies via the Women Making a Difference network as well as Chwarae Teg’s network of women.
Nicola Savage from the TUC bought the day to a close and encouraged us all to think about what we can do to challenge the status quo as individuals and organisations and what challenges we might set for the government. The Case for Diversity has been clearly made - it is now with renewed vigour and working together with partners like Chwarae Teg we will strive to make a difference. As Joy reminded us “reaching the widest talent pool and making the most of everyone’s skills is the best way to create successful and sustainable organisations. It’s also the right thing to do.”