Whilst becoming a Non-Executive Director (NED) may be a career goal for some women, for others it may be dismissed as another time demand on top of an already busy day job. However, becoming a NED offers a wide range of benefits – from the NED herself to her employers, the company she is on the board of and her wider network.
It may be easy to pass up the opportunity of becoming a NED with a simple ‘no, I’m too busy’, but when you consider that the time investment that goes into becoming a NED delivers multiple benefits, the effort seems a lot more worthwhile.
Put simply, becoming a NED is about challenging yourself and embracing the opportunities that come with it – and, as outlined below, there are more opportunities than there may initially seem.
The skill benefits
Although the benefits of becoming a NED may not be as obvious or clear-cut as those offered by other career opportunities, it represents a great opportunity to develop your skills.
A NED sits on a board alongside other NEDS and executive directors, often representing different industries, experiences and career backgrounds. Working together is an opportunity to broaden skill sets and learn from other similarly successful individuals. There is no formal training or NED-specific skill development tick list, but that does not mean there are not many skills to be learnt.
For example, a NED is not limited to operating in the same industry as they work in on a day-to-day basis, they may choose NED roles across vastly different sectors. In order to be effective in doing so, the NED must learn to examine a business on a purely strategic level – away from industry or sector confines. By doing this, a NED naturally accrues a greater understanding of business strategy: what works, what doesn’t, what makes a great team and who needs to be operating where in order to maximise performance.
Becoming a NED also helps to develops soft skills such as empathy and communication. From an early stage, the NED must realise that there is a difference between their role, that of the Chair and that of the company’s executive management team. The NED must recognise that they can’t and won’t know as much about the business as the executive team, whilst acknowledging their responsibilities and any company sensitivities.
The benefit to employers
There is a reason many employers are supportive of their senior staff seeking NED positions at other companies since they know their business will reap the benefits.
As part of a board of directors, a NED will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in different working practices. Fundamentally, all businesses face the same challenges, but the response to these can often be dictated by the industry the business operates in, or the experience of its leadership. For example, a NED who works in the telecoms industry may sit on the board of an aviation company alongside a fellow NED from a finance sector background. In this hypothetical example alone, the opportunity for new approaches to emerge is vast – and there is no reason that the NED cannot invoke these in their day-to-day work, benefitting their employer.
At a recent Page Executive Women in Business event, Angela Seymour-Jackson who is a highly experienced portfolio NED, mentioned that becoming a NED helped her to take a different approach in her work. She stated, “you don’t know the assumptions you work with until they’re challenged…”. However, once a NED is aware of those constraints, they can begin to move away from them and bring new practices to their business.
The career benefits
It is very rare that NED opportunities are advertised. In most cases, a potential NED will be approached by a headhunter or an existing board member. When looking to become a NED, it can very much be a case of ‘who you know’ – people will open doors and create opportunities.
As a benefit of the role, NEDs create a broad network of esteemed colleagues from a range of industries and backgrounds. These connections are invaluable, not only for identifying further NED roles, but also for career progression.
NED status also creates the potential to explore new career paths, guided by practical experience, rather than skill sets or ‘on paper’ potential. When this is combined with an ever-growing network of business connections, the long-term career benefits of becoming a NED significantly add to the appeal of the role.