Why targets are the best way to get diversity: Board Director Damien Keyes

Why targets are the best way to get diversity: Board Director Damien Keyes

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Well it has been a very interesting journey this past 8 months into my role as Director on the Board at the REIQ. We have covered many issues including working with our members in developing and now implementing our new strategic plan for the coming three years for the organisation. Plenty of work has gone in from all involved both in our executive management team at the REIQ, zone and chapter chairs and my fellow board directors. But there is much more to be done too if we want to ensure the REIQ as an organisation can not only sustain itself but thrive into its next 100 years which no doubt will present new and varied challenges as our industry and all of its associated stakeholders continue to change at a rapid rate.

Diversity is vital on the REIQ Board

With that in mind I felt the need to weigh in on the debate around the current issue that came before our board and has resulted in us proposing changes to the REIQ’s Constitution to ensure there is diversity of thought around the Boardroom table that also best reflects our current and future membership and organisational needs.

There seems to have been some serious debate stirred up among some members about the proposed changes to the REIQ Constitution and the changes that are designed to ensure diversity.

The argument seems to be that a quota for two female directors and a young director mean we are not bringing the best people for the job to the table or having figurehead or token roles as directors.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. All directors around the table have all the same responsibilities and liabilities/risk at law and are bound by a fiduciary duty to the REIQ and as a new director I can assure you it is not for the feint-hearted! We are all equals around that table.

Why a quota?

The purpose of having a quota is to mandate that diversity rather than leave it to chance. Simply saying that Directors should arrive at that boardroom table by their own means and efforts otherwise they are not worthy doesn’t cut it in the modern world of corporate governance.

Having just studied at the Australian Institute of Company Directors this past 3 months, this topic (board diversity) is very fresh and also very much at the forefront of corporate Australia as companies large and small look to best practice methods of ensuring they do not lose that diversity of thought and skill set around the board room table. Interesting question – why in our 100 year history have we had an overwhelming majority of male directors compared with female? Another interesting question- why has there never been a director around that table under the age of 35? Don’t we owe it to the company to ensure we have the best people around the table and not rely on old established networks to provide our “leaders?”

The Australian Institute of Company Directors: What does good board diversity look like?

I’m here because of a quota

Take me for example. I am probably more qualified than most to speak on this subject with the main reason being that my directorship has largely arisen out of changes to the REIQ’s constitution that occurred back in August 2015 that required 2 of the 6 Member Directors around the table to come from the regional membership base to ensure the regional members had the ability to contribute to the direction of the company and ensure issues facing regional Queensland were represented by our peak body. I tried unsuccessfully twice before to secure the votes required and on both of those occasions I lost to senior incumbent directors both from the SE corner with long established networks but I felt I had just as much to offer around that table as they did yet being from regional Queensland didn’t have access to the vast numbers or networks and therefore missed the cut. Yet on the third attempt under the new Constitution there were two seats available and one had to be filled by a director from the regions and whilst I did poll strongly in the votes I am under no illusion that if a regional seat wasn’t mandated on that particular rotation then I wouldn’t be here talking to you now as a board director.

Why tenure is capped

The other thing worth noting is when the REIQ amended the Constitution in 2015 to include the regions they also introduced the changes to the Director tenure to ensure that every 3 years directors are up for voting again and face the possibility of not being re-elected to the Board. Further, you could not sit more than three terms in a row should you be successful on each rotation. This is to ensure fresh ideas, thoughts and approaches are always coming to the Board and we do not grow stale at the strategic level. Again director tenure is a major part in the modern world of corporate governance and you won’t see in any of the current learnings or teachings anywhere that suggests having directors sit on boards for 10 years or more is good for the companies they represent because you are well and truly beyond your use-by date in terms of fresh thinking and ideas.

It’s time for action!

So the REIQ has been taking bold action around ensuring the best ideas and skill sets around their Boardroom table since 2015 and I see these current changes as just natural extensions of that progressive path. It is funny in all the debate I have heard and seen online it has all been centred around the female quota. I have not seen any commentary around the young Director position. My business has had several employees under 30 years of age over the years and each one of them in their time with us has contributed great value in different ways to the growth and performance of our business. I am sure many of you would also share this view and experiences with our younger generation. Yet under the current constitution what chances does someone young and dynamic have of getting a seat at the table to debate and question the status quo? I see huge upside to the REIQ having a young director in the room at the strategic level and there are different mind sets they bring in particular to our rapidly changing industry it is that younger generation that can bring a fresher perspective and help us navigate the future that is constantly changing. The same goes for the female directors around the table if it isn’t mandated we run the risk of chalking up another 100 years as a company with yet only another handful of female directors around the table so something needs to change to ensure that path is clear for that diversity of thought and ideas to reach our boardroom!

Change is not easy, but it’s necessary!

Final word, change is never easy. It causes uncertainty and that uncertainty can create anxiety usually in those who fear change most. These proposed changes in my opinion are for the better of the REIQ and nothing to be afraid of. Before you make up your mind to sit on the fence and not vote, or vote in the negative, my hope is you have taken on board some of my comments and checked out the proposed changes for yourself and then make up your own mind. I would love to think I have made you feel more comfortable with these changes and why we are embarking on them but at the end of the day the choice is definitely yours so make sure you jump in and make your vote count either way.

Read more: Proposed changes to the REIQ Constitution