Board Basics with DirectHer Network

The Cause

DirectHer Network (“DirectHer”) is a collective of seven, young professional women. Based on our varied professional and volunteer experiences, we are dedicated to empowering Alberta women aged 20 to 45 with the knowledge and confidence needed to serve as board directors. DirectHer was founded in 2019 after seeing too many capable women self-select out of leadership opportunities when failing to “perfectly” match the application criteria.

DirectHer’s idea has two components (collectively, the “Idea”):
1) To host two public workshops on “board basics” that create an inviting, safe, and motivating space for young women to ask questions and learn about being a board member. Our workshop goals are to demystify intimidating board language, create tangible exposure to board process (through a mock board meeting), and instill confidence in women regarding the skills they already possess that would benefit a board.

2) To develop and manage a bank of online resources that compliments and extends the learnings received from the above workshop to a wider audience.

The Idea will focus on board concepts and terminology in the not-for-profit sector, given this is an important entry point for women seeking board and governance experience. However, the materials also provide basic knowledge on boards in the for-profit sector, as our overarching goals are to:
1) empower young Alberta women to seek out opportunities and join not-for profit boards, and
2) demonstrate a pathway of opportunity for young women seeking to join for-profit boards in the future.

The anticipated outcomes of the Idea are to:
1) normalize the discussion on and opportunity for young women to join boards; and
2) empower women to apply for and secure board positions to increase the visibility and diversity of women at the board of directors level.

The DirectHer team brings practical and technical expertise and experience in: corporate law, professional accounting, public research, workshop design and evaluation, public speaking, group facilitation and project analytics. DirectHer was incorporated in January 2019 and has presented to 78 women in the first four months of 2019. DirectHer formally launched on Instagram on March 8, 2019 @directhernetwork, and in 8 weeks has created a community of nearly 500 people interested in corporate diversity and inclusion and board governance.

Who Will it Benefit?

DirectHer intends to target young women in Alberta who are interested but not yet serving on boards, with a specific focus on those who: 1) are between the ages of 25 and 45; and/or 2) identify with a racial and/or ethnic minority group; and/or 3) consider themselves to be a person with a disability; (collectively, the “Audience”).

The Idea focuses on empowering young women as women's leadership at a directorship level is positively correlated with improved organizational operation. Facilitating workshops for young women enables them to consider and plan for diverse leadership opportunities early in their career trajectory. Diversity on boards is important as it allows for diversity of thought, encouraging more thorough, thoughtful and overall better group decision-making and performance (see, “Collective Intelligence and Group Performance”, Anita Williams Woolley, et al., December 2015).

Further, where three or more women sit on a board the following benefits are achieved:
1) improved organizational innovation: the ability to be first in the industry to develop innovative systems, introduce new business practices, and develop programs to facilitate creativity and innovation (see, “Women Directors on Corporate Boards: From Tokenism to Critical Mass”, M Torchia, et al., Journal of Business Ethics (2011) 102:299–317); and
2) women’s contributions are normalized, and communication dynamics are changed (see, for example, “Critical Mass: The Impact of Three or More Women on Corporate Boards", AM Konrad, et al., Organizational Dynamics 37.2 (2008): 145).

Despite the demonstrated benefit of board diversity, the statistics on women’s participation in Alberta remain poor. In 2018, women only held 12% of directorship positions for Alberta public issuers. Further, in 2016 less than 3% of public issuers had three or more women on their boards (see “Alberta Women on Boards Statistics Index”, issued by the Alberta Securities Commission).

In the not-for-profit sector, of approximately 3000 government board applicants between 2017 and 2018, only 21.8% were between the ages of 35-44. The majority of applicants (59.7%) identified themselves as Caucasian and only 3.7% considered themselves to a person with a disability (see “Diversity Survey Statistics”, Government of Alberta. 2018).