Opinion: Marketing — Ensuring an inclusive boardroom

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Opinion: Marketing — Ensuring an inclusive boardroom

67 per cent of women in ASX-200 companies work in senior marketing roles but this is in no way represented once you get to the boardroom.

Today many stakeholders are asking the question ‘why do you not have enough senior women in your business?’. Sharon Mackie of Talent Search Haus, in support of this external pressure, recently said “people are realising that having cognitive diversity is actually better for business.”

If this is true in a business and is a driver for considering greater diversity at the CEO level, why not the board?

The argument that marketers deserved a seat at the boardroom table has gathered momentum for almost a decade. In 2013, the Australian Marketing Institute (AMI) and Deloitte co-authored a paper on the subject which was further cited that same year in an AICD magazine piece.

Marketing’s Role in the Boardroom  An Evaluation Framework for Boards and Directors, challenged the boardroom on the premise that in the age of digital disruption, boards have been much too slow to welcome marketers to the boardroom.

The report suggested that “For many organisations, marketing is the fuel that powers business strategy. It is intrinsic to how organisations develop and position their services and offerings, approach and deliver customer service and satisfaction. This is how they connect and communicate with other businesses and the community. Ultimately, marketing is critical to how organisations find and keep customers, make money and grow.”

It seems that in the eight years since this report was published, some boardrooms have progressed when it comes to diversity, but not all. More executive-level marketers have seats in boardrooms and our representation is one component of the focus on diversity which rightfully continues to gain momentum.

However, we still have a way to go, likely because companies, chairs and boards aren’t crystal clear on the value and exact point of difference a director with marketing expertise provides to a business and its board. There is also an enormous overlap between thinking as a marketer and technology and digital growth strategies as they all require a lens fully focussed on the customer and the customer experience to be effective.

Last month, Azadeh Williams wrote on the topic for Marketing Magazine: “organisations who are serious about remaining competitive and understanding the changing nature of consumer demands need to bring marketing to the boardroom. With the proliferation of data-driven marketing and sophisticated lead generation tactics, marketing is a critical function of any business. Marketing fuels the revenue engine of companies”. Her article shows that in a boardroom setting, marketers and creatives are still a minority despite the value, creative thinking and diverse skill set we bring to the table.

The 2021 EY report 'Is the board of the future being held back by the past' looks at four key challenges for boards, with one being a looming gap in skills and behaviours. The report states: “most boards have an emerging gap in digital literacy, as well as in soft skills, such as behavioural science, that are critical to successfully running today’s organisation. Diversity in its broadest sense also lags. The recognition that divergent thinking will be vital to better decision-making, innovation and value creation is still maturing”.

In a recent podcast episode of The CMO Show, I talked to Mark Jones about the value marketers can bring to the boardroom with one crucial board skill that marketers have in spades: curiosity; perhaps we’re not owning it loudly enough, sharing the value this skill brings to the boardroom.

If a marketing mindset runs through your veins you’ll never assume you have the answer; you go looking. Marketers will ask questions to determine the answer and seek those insights from fellow board members, management, customers and all stakeholders.

In a time of calling for inclusion and diversity around board tables, this remains a crucial skill, one that involves seeking varied opinions and recognises that there are many engaged, smart people worthy of providing guidance to develop a winning business strategy and many of them are outside the walls of the organisation.

If boards want to serve their organisations well, to drive an agenda for transformational change and grow the business they first need to understand what customers want, expect and will pay for as well as utilise and advocate for. Directors will only truly know this if we adopt a curious mindset and go looking for the right answers and insights.

In the words of Lisa Chung, non-executive director: “The issue of literacy around diversity needs to be addressed. I'm trying to encourage the idea that one must be an inclusive thinker and have the skills to think beyond one's own life experience”.

One interpretation of this emboldens me on my quest to have more marketers join boards and ensure a truly inclusive board table. Our very careers are built on thinking beyond our own experience, seeking answers and challenging concepts so that they stack up to market expectations. We are agile, adapting our thinking so we deliver products successfully, treat the user experience at the forefront of every discussion, build transformation from insights and help build reputations that allow businesses to perform, evolve and most importantly, grow.

This article was written by Cheryl Hayman, non-executive director, Shriro.

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