The board with diversity on the agenda | Women's Agenda

The board with diversity on the agenda

Five years ago I joined the Board of Netball Australia as the appointed director. My appointment was the first conscious step in the organisation’s move towards diversity. I came from outside the netball community, which was a large step forward for this sporting body. The other six directors were elected to the board by the Member Organisations (MOs), in a ballot conducted at the Annual General Meeting.

At the time of my appointment the entire Board was female: an anomaly for any type of board. I noticed immediately that it was professionally run and collegiate, unlike some of the other boards that I had been on. I was able to provide an outsider’s point of view and my fellow directors were always respectful, even when it was evident that I didn’t know as much about the history of the sport as they did.

I was invited to join the board due to a skills gap in marketing and media knowledge. One of the first board meetings coincided with a strategic forum that involved directors from the state and territory bodies. Within the first 10 minutes of the meeting one of the state presidents asked me why I wanted to join the NA Board. These were passionate people, mostly volunteers, who lived and breathed the sport. There was no way they were about to let someone whose intentions weren’t pure stay long at the party.

During the past five years Netball Australia has achieved a lot under the leadership of its CEO Kate Palmer and strategic direction of the board. We acknowledged the commercial benefits of giving the national team a name, The Diamonds. We launched an elite trans-Tasman competition and successfully bid to host the World Netball Championships in Sydney in 2015. As well, The Diamonds increased their profile as Australia’s most successful national sporting team.

We have since received the blessing of the MOs to extend the Board to include a second appointed director so they have clearly seen the value in a diverse point of view. At the last board meeting we added a man with a strong retail and licensing background (identified following a skills gap analysis) to increase the number of directors to eight.

It’s not the first time that Netball Australia has had a male director. A couple of years ago a man with strong ties to the netball community and with a legal background was elected to the board for one term.

Most of the Member Organisations have male directors and some have male CEOs so it’s not as though the sport doesn’t attract and want quality male leadership. But seeing them nominate for the national board is apparently as rare as women nominating for the Australian Olympic Committee Board. At the AOC AGM earlier this year John Coates made special mention of the fact that if we wanted to see more women appointed to the AOC committee then it was up to the individual sports to put them forward. Apparently not enough step up. And so it is in reverse with netball. In the five years that I have been a director of Netball Australia only one man has nominated.

The Appointed Director’s maximum time on the board is three terms of two years. I am now into my third and final term and we are discussing my succession. The board may or may not choose a man to replace me. I believe that my success on the board has been a mixture of things that also offer diversity: my specific skills and experience combined with the fact that I came from outside the netball community.

It’s an exciting time for Netball Australia as only the most mature and professional organisations are brave enough to add directors who might challenge the current thinking. This is definitely a board who could show a few of the others how it’s done.

Are you a director on a Board that has a positive tale of diversity to tell?

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