A Conversation about Boards: with Diana Markaki – Bartholdi.

Below are highlights from our conversation with Diana Markaki-Bartholdi on our podcast “Unlocking the Boardroom”.

Diana Markaki – Bartholdi is the Founder and CEO of the Boardroom, the first private club for women executives who aspire to be board members.

Gender equality is good for both men and women

Men need to be part of the solution. We share the world and we need to find a solution to a problem that applies to both genders, as I believe that gender equality is good for both men and women. So, when I am fighting for gender equality, I am fighting for women as much as I am fighting for men. And I know from experience, for example, that there are as many men that want work life balance because they want to spend time with their kids, as there are women that want to have a thriving career and spend more time in actually getting international assignments and becoming board members.

Board Diversity

Diversity is a valuable attribute for a board, as it helps address complex issues in an ever-changing business environment. The pandemic tested the value of diversity, as many boards failed due to a lack of diversity in knowledge, expertise, and way of thinking. It is important to find people who are different than us, who are better at other areas of expertise. This allows for the true benefit of diversity, as it covers your blind spots by having in the room people that are different from you. By having people with different knowledge, expertise, and functional expertise, organizations can better address the complex issues they face in an ever-evolving business environment.

The transition from executive to board member

I believe that becoming a board member is not a linear continuation of an executive’s career, in the sense that it is not a natural next step. Leadership development and training are therefore crucial to ensure that board members stop acting as executives and act more as sparring partners to the CEO and executive team. Experience from executive roles is valuable in the boardroom, but the way they operate as a board member must be different from the way they were operating as an executive. Additionally, board members have specific responsibilities but also liabilities, and they should leave operational activities and risks to the executives. To become successful board members, executives must change their mentality and focus on their new roles and responsibilities.

The path to the boardroom

You need to know your strengths as well as your weaknesses, and develop a plan to cover those skills that are relevant and needed at the board level. This is a crucial first step.
You then need to build your personal valuable proposition, what makes you stand out, differentiate yourself, and make everyone understand that you are the go-to person for a specific point.
The third step is network smart and not hard, which involves being strategic about the next step in your career. That’s why at the Boardroom we call it “Strategic networking.” Define the industry you would like to enter as a board member, what company ideally you think that you will be adding value to and what is that value. Be strategic, don’t waist your time and energy.
Last but not least, go for it! Start before you feel ready and believe in yourself!

What makes a good board member

The first quality needs to be related to a functional expertise, which has shifted during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, board members were predominantly CEOs and CFOs, with lawyers being a key member. However, now, there is a focus on culture, people matters, government affairs, digitization, technology, and sustainability.

The second quality is a soft skill related to leadership. The presence of strong alpha male personalities in the boardroom, hindered open discussions and better decision-making. And on top of that now, we have diversity which is very difficult to manage. To maintain a leadership mentality, it is crucial to leave one’s ego behind and actively listen to the other members’ messages. This approach helps find solutions and decisions that are for the broader good. By fostering a culture of open discussion and diversity, leaders can create a more inclusive and effective environment for decision-making.

Lastly, time is a crucial factor in a successful board career. Board meetings, which are often conducted twice a month, can be time-consuming, especially when in addition you need to spend time monitoring the competition and building relationships with your fellow board members. To succeed and add value as a board member, it is essential to have enough time available to dedicate to board work.

If you want, you can listen to the full episode here.