Ambassadors of merit (reloaded)

In July 2012 Valore D, the Italian association of businesses to support the talent of women, launched “In the Boardroom”, a programme to select and train the best Non-Executive Directors.

In the Boardroom was designed by Valore D, with the support of GE Capital, at the initiative of Linklaters and Egon Zehnder, our Firm. Together with Linklaters, we selected and provided all key faculty members.

In The Boardroom was meant to select and promote “Ambassadors of Merit“, ready to change Italy’s corporate governance for the better, as a result of the huge opportunity represented by a super modern law (that came into effect in 2012) fostering gender diversity in the boardroom (read here for the beneficial effects of this law).

 

Italy is today a positive example of an improving corporate governance in Europe and beyond. Women as a crucial factor of positive change have given such a strong contribution to this that we are well beyond the turning point.

On 20 and 21 November 2015, we celebrated the conclusion of In the Boardroom, which was launched in July 2012. Ever since, it has helped well over 500 talented women prepare for the role of Non Executive Director.

Of those, a significant number are now Non-Executive Directors.

I feel humbled by the exceptional contribution of so many talented women. They have set the example for everyone in terms of dedication, willingness to prepare for roles where now merit and competencies have replaced “word of mouth” as a key to rigorous selection. Women mean merit, competence and better corporate governance. In summary, more women in leadership means huge change for the better.

The next step is now to continue to work to foster the benefits of gender diversity, and diversity at large, also when it comes to executive positions. “In The Boardroom” has been an exceptional factor and its effects will be felt for many years to come.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

The “Who” element, the “Female Opportunity” and a matter of pride

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz published “Great People Decisions” in 2007. The book has achieved global fame with fifteen international editions, emphasizing how important people decisions are for the success of one’s personal life as well as for the broader impact of leadership in the world we live in.

Claudio Fernandez-Araoz

I have been a proud Egon Zehnder colleague of Claudio since 2004. I am now ever more proud as I hold in my hands “It’s Not the How or the What but the Who“, Claudio’s most recent book that was released at the beginning of June 2014 during the celebrations for Egon Zehnder’s 50th anniversary.

It's not the How or the What but the Who

More will follow on the extraordinary leadership insights that Claudio’s forty-four short essays can provide the reader. If only for a short minute, in this post I want to focus on Essay 34, where Claudio describes what he calls “the Female Opportunity”:

Over the past few years, as I’ve traveled the world to speak with senior private and public leaders about talent issues,… I am often asked where I see the most opportunity. My answer is never a country, it’s a gender: women.

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, “It’s not the How or the What but the Who”, Harvard Business Review Press, p. 160

 

A couple of pages later, Claudio, whom we at Egon Zehnder had the privilege of seeing in action speaking at our Milan office to an audience of 80 women leaders in 2012, ends this chapter on the Female Opportunity quoting one best practice: Italy.

Italy as best practice for the "Female Opportunity"

Italy as best practice for the “Female Opportunity”

And he does so with specific mention to the recent history of Italy’s most effective legislation in favor of diverse boards, arguing in the very same direction (indeed quoting this very Open Thinking) as we have for a long time.

Women mean talent, positive change, better corporate governance and endless possibilities.

 

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

Two or three things I think when people mention “Golden Skirts” to me

On a couple of recent occasions, I was  asked  about what is commonly defined as the “golden skirts” phenomenon, whether there’s a risk of some female non-executive directors taking on too many Board roles as a result of a law on #DiverseBoards (this is another one of many possible definitions).

P1070342

I would warn to be skeptical. I would even go as far as to say that this is a clear instance of unconscious biases at play. We look at women in a different, more biased way than we would normally look at men.

The expression “Golden skirts” has the very same unconsciously negative overtones as expressions such as “pink” quotas and the like. Unconsciously, similarity bias makes us fear adding diverse members to the board.

There might be women taking on too many board positions, exactly as there might be many men who do the same. Nothing to do with gender nor with the law. Let’s note, though, that we do not seem we use a similar “gender” stereotype as that of a “golden skirt” when we describe such a phenomenon when it involves men.

Even if we assumed, for the sake of the argument, that there might be cases of women taking on an excessive number of non-executive board positions, under no circumstances would this imply scarcity of female talent or a peculiar behavior of women.

unconsciousbias

In addition, we need to be extremely careful. If you properly look for it, and manage to overcome unconscious biases, female talent is abundant so that there is no risk that women take on too many board positions as there is too little talent to meet demand.

In the country where I live, where a law on #DiverseBoards has been in place since 2012, we haven’t observed this phenomenon amongst women any differently than we would observe it amongst men. I would even go as far as to say that in my personal professional experience, I have encountered in women an extreme level of care about not taking on too many board seats, thereby running the risk of dedicating too little time to any single given board position they hold. Not for a reason of gender, we should note. Rather, as women have approached Board roles with more insight, as they have “raised the standards” in terms of preparing for a board seat. From now on, even men will have to do the same.

Reducing unconscious biases. Raising talent, merit, competencies, improving corporate governance. This is what #DiverseBoards is all about.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

FT Innovative Lawyers 2013: Claudia Parzani

The FT Innovative Lawyers is a great award. I am so honoured that our “In the Boardroom” program was part of the reason for Claudia Parzani’s being acknowledged by the FT. In addition, I love to think that how women are changing Italy is only a beginning of how they will keep transforming the world for the better.

Live from Planet Paola

Claudia ParzaniOne of the ten winners in this year’s FT Innovative Lawyers survey, among over 600 participants, is Claudia Parzani of Linklaters, chair of corporate association Valore D and co-creator of In the Boardroom, an initiative she developed with GE Capital and Egon Zehnder to provide training and skills to prepare women for boardroom positions. Claudia also created the Breakfast@Linklaters network, featured in this year’s Client Service category.

Kudos to Claudia! I am proud to be participating in her boardroom program and honored to be in her circle.

Update & Correction (Oct. 17, 2013): post corrected to clarify that In The Boardroom was developed through collaboration among Linklaters, GE Capital and Egon Zehnder. The supporting member companies of Valore D can be found on this page.

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A time for women


A great day of work in Venice, on 23 November 2012, to discuss how we can all help women flourish and, with them, make Italy and the world a better place. A great “Thank you” to all outstanding participants, who ensured this was a success!

This is the video, in Italian, of of the opening panel, which I had the privilege to lead:

Full video coverage can be found here.

We believe “Tempo di donne” can be one of the many initiatives in support of the outstanding women who are leading Italy and Europe towards better Corporate Governance.

Tommaso Arenare

Ambassadors of merit

Together with Claudia Parzani, a Partner at Linklaters, Anna Zanardi, an executive coach and Marco Massarotto, a digital entrepreneur and social media expert, I have the privilege of being part of the “faculty” of “In the Boardroom“, a programme that Valore D, an Italian association of companies to support female talent and leadership, is offering free of charge (the faculty itself operates at no charge) to a selected number of exceptional Non Executive Director candidates.

A group 35 of super-talented executives was selected to spend one full day per month, for a year, in a classroom, sharing and discussing best practices in corporate governance, with a view to becoming instruments to change corporate governance for the better, from inside the Boardroom.

After a first full day in the classroom with these exceptional executives and professionals, I will celebrate a very simple thing: these people’s entry in the Boardroom will be the result of a process entirely based on merit and competencies, overcoming the drawbacks of traditional biases in the selection candidates.

Ambassadors of merit.

This is, per se, an exceptional occasion to celebrate, as well as an example to become best practice beyond the borders of Europe.

Tommaso Arenare

The tech industry in the US, #diverseboards and fostering merit in its own cradle

I am particularly glad to read this great article as it relates to the US and the tech industry, both rightly considered a cradle for merit and competency-based choices. In fact, focusing on increasing gender diversity at board level would be greatly beneficial for merit. Let me briefly comment on a couple of aspects:

  • In addition to valid and interesting research, as that from Credit Suisse and several more examples, selecting talented women for Non Executive Director positions is a phenomenal way to emphasise merit in the selection of Non Executive Directors.
    Even in countries like the US, or sectors as tech, which have considered “merit” as a driving compass in selecting people, the percentage of women on boards has barely moved past the 15% mark.
    Focusing on selecting more women can be purely revolutionary, as it will increase choices based on leadership competencies.
    Let me bring in the case of Italy. We have recently introduced a law, in essence requiring, since 12 August 2012, Italian listed or State-controlled companies to appoint a fifth (to become a third at the following mandate) of board members as part of the “under represented gender”. This law has been implemented earlier by a number of Italian corporates, during the Annual General Meeting season of 2012: exceptional women were selected. As shareholders were nudged by the law towards changing some board members, they realised they would be better off by selecting them on the basis of merit and competency;
  • Another great result was that overall corporate governance improved. As this law mandates for shareholders to change a number of board members, Italian companies have rightly taken it as a great opportunity to make better use of their Boards. Hence, some leading Italian global companies, such as Fiat Chrysler for example, implemented a smaller board, with a view to fostering its effectiveness.
  • As a final remark, let me repeat one of my mantras: exceptional female talent is ever more crucial, in one of those defining moments, as difficult as they are, where proper and effective use of talent and leadership can, and will make a difference for the better. More on this here: http://wp.me/p2mHJv-28 .

Tommaso Arenare
http://www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

Gigaom

In the mid-1950s, economist Harry M. Markowitz first described how investors could reduce their overall risk by filling their portfolio with securities that do not usually move in the same direction. As with all significant economic research, Markowitz (who was later awarded a Nobel prize in economics for his work in portfolio theory) proved mathematically what every good grandmother has known for centuries — don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Or, if you prefer to listen to your Sunday school teacher, take a look at what King Solomon, one of the richest men of his time, wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.”

Now what does this have to do with your boardroom? Plenty, if you read the new report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute. The…

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Italy, #diverseboards and a reason for hope

It seemed just too difficult, too corageous and brave. A work of so many years. So many “no’s”, so many “it’s impossible”…

Finally, Italy did it and set a good example.

Italy’s law on gender diversity for Board of Directors of listed companies (Law n. 120/2011, dated 12 July 2011, the so-called “Golfo Mosca Law”), comes into force tomorrow, 12 August 2012.

Starting tomorrow, in essence, Italian listed or State controlled companies will need to appoint a fifth (to become a third at the following mandate) of board members as part of the “under represented gender”.

Even before tomorrow, this law has been implemented earlier by a number of Italian corporates, during the Annual General Meeting season of 2012: exceptional women were selected, overall corporate governance improved. Italian companies have rightly taken it as a great opportunity to make better use of their Boards, on the basis of more merit and competency-based selection.

I have separately described this as a great sign of good things coming and more to come.

Here, I want to take a moment to celebrate the coming into force of this law as a reason for hope.

With this, I celebrate the work of Lella Golfo and Alessia Mosca, two outstanding ladies whose own differences were turned into a joint strength. With them, I celebrate all the very many exceptional female leaders, whose talent is already making a difference for the better in Italy and in Europe.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare