Our commitment – 50NEDs Initiative

Starfish is committed to supporting organisations that want to improve their diversity. One of the most effective ways to deliver positive change is to address the diversity of non-executive Boards. Having inclusive board recruitment practices and being prepared to recognise and value the contributions offered by a broader range of backgrounds holds the key.

After many years of supporting candidates who have been through board recruitment processes, we thought it was time that we made better use of the insights we’ve gained. We decided to create the 50NEDs initiative that would encourage and support would-be non-executives from all walks of life who want to join boards, but simply don’t know how to access opportunities and get started. Our aim was to inspire and help prepare 50 ‘boardroom ready’ first time non-executives to organisations we work with within two years and we’re very proud to have reached this remarkable milestone.

We’ve placed brilliant people at an early stage of their leadership journey from many different backgrounds: from entrepreneurs, medical doctors and campaigners, to artists, surveyors and conservationists. And we’ve placed those who’ve had successful executive careers into organisations as diverse as Girlguiding, Wilf Ward Family Trust, the Solicitors’ Charity, the Co-op Foundation, Drinkaware, World Vision UK, Blenheim Palace Heritage Foundation, Cambridge House, Lampton 360 Group, St John’s Foundation, the Richmond Fellowship and the Young Foundation.

Having spoken with the group of non-executives we’ve placed over the last two years, some key themes and insights as well as some brilliant pieces of advice have emerged. Many had assumed at the start that board members are all either professionals at the end of their careers, or at top C suite level, but realised this wasn’t the case. Instead there is a shared set of skills and attributes that boards are looking for.

These include things like having the ability to think strategically and impartially, being a true team player, using emotional intelligence and having the capacity to be self-reflective, to keep learning and self-regulate. Non-executives also tend to offer a maturity of judgement, which means they can land their views with impact and credibility. This group brings a broader set of experiences with them into the board room and is willing to contribute beyond their professional area of expertise. None are attributes that are confined to one demographic within our society.

Motivations tended to fall into fairly broad themes – from the obvious but vital wanting to ‘give back’, be that helping and supporting others on their own leadership journey, or having a deep connection or alignment with the cause; to wanting to gain professional experience and networks, or having some level of lived experience that gives a board a deeper insight into the communities they serve. In return this group has been able to gain a huge amount in return, by working as part of highly diverse, motivated and interesting teams. This experience has helped them to enrich their own professional or personal lives. And they’ve also had a lot of fun.

And there are some top tips. At the head of the list, and perhaps no surprise to anyone who has held a board role before, is the amount of time you have to realistically commit, whilst understanding what a ‘time commitment’ means – from reading and reflecting on board papers and preparing for meetings (the complexity of good governance and the legal side of the role can be overwhelming at first); ad hoc meetings and events that happen in evenings or at weekends; perhaps learning about a completely new sector whilst still doing your day job, and getting to know your fellow board members and how they like to engage… The top piece of advice that everyone we spoke to shared was the importance of taking the time to get to know your fellow board members outside of the boardroom, and ideally before you even attend your first meeting, which makes the journey much easier.

Thank you to everyone who gave their time to help others think about what they wished they’d known before they started out. And, of course, our own journey hasn’t stopped just because 50NEDs has achieved its aim. If you’re interested in a board career, our newly launched specialist Board Practice will be a great place to start browsing opportunities https://starfishsearch.com/starfish-search-launches-its-new-dedicated-board-practice/

Watch this space for articles and insight pieces throughout 2024 and beyond. See you there.