A little controversial, yes. But there are some PAs out there with 20 or even 30 years of experience who would make excellent members of Boards. Heck, some of them would make better Board members than the Board you already have!
In my various administrative roles, I’ve attended many a Board meeting and I can tell you – even though I’m “only” there to take the minutes, I contribute to every single one of them. I’ve been a valued employee everywhere I’ve worked, and my opinion on certain subjects is just as valid as everyone else’s. Plus, I have a unique perspective that comes only from being a CEO/COO’s right hand person. Couple this with being the PA to the analysts on the team and you have probably your most well rounded employee. In our positions, we speak to pretty much everyone, often in confidence, so we get a unique understanding of what really concerns people.
I’m not saying that we would all be able to change the company. But having this unique perspective could be so valuable to you.
In this article in the Independent explains how half of German corporate supervisory boards are made up of workers. It was suggested by the spokesperson of Unite that these Board members are “democratically chosen and appointed by a recognised trade union”. Whilst I wholly agree with being democratically chosen, I personally can’t get on board with any trade union getting involved whatsoever. I feel that a lot of unions cause more harm than good within organisations by holding the company to ransom for often petty things. With this in mind, I can’t see how a union wouldn’t have any other ulterior motive for the person they put forward to be on the Board.
The Right Experience
Some companies hire in “seasoned” Board members. People who are members of various Boards concurrently. Whilst they have a breadth of knowledge about Boards, I would challenge their knowledge of the company in question. One or two of these kinds of Board members is great, and I would welcome it. However, a Board made up of them I would argue as being out of touch with reality. What you need is a wide range of people with a mix of backgrounds that are relevant to the company. You need people who not only understand the company, but who have a vested interest in its success. More and more companies are offering their administration staff shares or options because they value their longevity. Offering the chance to be voted onto the Board is, I believe, an extension of this.
Some PAs have had experience across areas within an organisation. How many companies actively encourage movement between departments? How many times has someone been brought in at a very senior level from an external company? It happens a lot. So how can you expect a group of people with no experience of working lower down in a company to have everyone’s best interests at heart? You just have to watch a couple of episodes of Undercover Boss to see that (one of my favourite programs, by the way!).
I don’t think I could personally ever get on board with quotas for Boards. Or quotas in general. Offering someone (anyone!) a position on a Board just to make up numbers is utterly ridiculous. I would rather see a Board full of men than a token woman for the sake of it. I would turn down any position at any company if I knew I was being hired to meet a quota. With that said, I would encourage the widest range of people possible to put themselves forward for such positions. With a democratic voting system to promote someone to the Board, I believe you can reasonably assume that the best people will get the position. But to hire someone just for being female or ethnic (or male, even!), is outrageous.
So, CEOs, I put this challenge to you. Encourage a PA to put themselves forward for a position on your Board. What’s the worst that could happen?
Are you on your company’s Board? What is the mix of representation? Are you a PA? Would you put yourself forward for a position on your company Board?