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Connexus : Issue 41
In 2009 Cannon led the merger of PowerState and Satisfac credit unions. The new credit union, Credit Union SA, also has a 50:50 gender split. “More than 50 per cent of our members are women, so it’s important to have women around the table as representatives of all our members. We also have age diversity ranging from the late-30s to late- 60s,” says Cannon. diverse thinkers Credit Union SA doesn’t use targets to achieve diversity. It selects on skills, knowledge, exper ience and cultural fit. “ People often recr uit in their own likeness,” s ays Cannon. “ But you are less likely to achieve diver sity if you look only within your own circles, and a strong board is made up of diverse thinkers.” A mix of genders and professions at the table adds valuable information to the decision-making, she says. “ It’s fascinating how often something from one board can be relevant to another. Not in ter ms of breaching confidentiality, but the concepts.” Cannon encourages boards to adver tise positions through the Australian Institute of Company Directors or WOB. “ When oppor tunities come up, cast a wide net and ser iously consider women,” she says. Women interested in reaching board level should be at the top of their profession, with sound knowledge of how a business runs, or the ability to develop that quite quickly, she says. Aspiring directors can gain valuable experience by volunteering with one of the many organisations that offer unpaid positions. Learning on the job has its benefits, but shor tly after becoming a director of PowerState Cannon did the AICD’s one-week directors cour se, followed by “almost every one-day program the AICD runs”. They helped her gain a “true under standing” of a board’s role. “ There’s a huge difference between being an executive and sitting on a board. Some directors don’t know what a board does, let alone its legal requirements,” she says. “A lot of liabilities sit with directors. In Australia there are 700 different pieces of legislation that can hold a director personally liable for the actions of the organisation. “ That’s quite scary, and it’s a real challenge for mutuals – especially some of the smaller credit unions – because our members generally elect the boards, and they may elect someone who’s not exper ienced.” Unconscious bias Regardless of how capable a woman might be, recr uiting and keeping her on the board takes a commitment fr om business. It must challenge the established culture which allows unconscious bias to keep talented people from reaching their full potential. Cannon cites entrenched practices such as scheduling board meetings and ‘planning days’ in the evening, on weekends or during school holidays. It prevents the full participation of women, and men, with family commitments. “ The disadvantage is that you cut out talented people. You have to be able to accommodate difference if you want diversity,” Cannon says. Cyndi Tebbel is a freelance writer. More than 50 per cent of our members are women, so it’s important to have women around the table as representatives of all our members. Alexandrea Cannon, Chair, Credit Union SA www.abacus.org.au 43