One of the stories in the Welsh media this week relates to the inclusion of females on public boards. A key issue here is that boards are dominated by male members and by widening participation to include more females, the boards will better reflect society in general. Clearly, there is also a need to include other aspects in the consideration of board members such as ethnicity and disabilities, for example.
Use of a quota system has been mentioned in the drive to get more female board members, as has giving them greater encouragement in the application process. Widening the ‘advertising’ space and locations for the vacancy notices are also deemed to be important here.
The membership of public boards is indeed an important issue and getting this right is the first stage in improving boards. Beyond their membership, there is clearly a need to focus on what the role of the public board is. Why do we have them and what do they do?
Public boards are there to lead public organizations like the NHS, housing associations, sporting organizations and many charities, for example. There are also public boards which sit within the school system (governing bodies). It is the task of the board to lead, to develop policy and to effectively challenge managers within the organization. Scrutinizing the delivery of the service within their area is an important element of the activity of boards.
Getting board members to challenge and scrutinize is the subject of many courses and conferences. Some boards undertake these activities effectively and others are continuing to work towards this. Effective challenge involves understanding their role, analyzing data, asking searching questions and so on. Having positive constructive relationships between the board and management is important in good governing on the board.
Widening the membership of boards to include more females may impact positively on the challenge and scrutiny role of boards. This is about better governance and this should ultimately should lead to improved services. This is something which is in all our interests.