Kimberley Cole speaks with Dr Juliet Bourke on board composition and best practices for creating future fit organisations with diversity of thought and culture change.
Dr Juliet Bourke is an award winning author, speaker and advocate for diversity. She was a former Human Capital Partner at Deloitte leading Deloitte’s Diversity and Inclusion Consulting agenda. She continues to work with global clients to create cultural change through a focus on leadership, high performing teams, and diversity & inclusion. She has over 25 years’ experience in human capital, management, and law. Her latest book, entitled ‘Which two heads are better than one?: The extraordinary power of diversity of thinking and inclusive leadership’, is in its second edition and helps leaders understand how to systematically create diverse thinking and take team performance to the next level.
01:28 Career Journey
13:09 Future Fitness of Boards
18:31 Risks of not Having Diversity of Thinking on Boards
22:19 What Gets in the Way of Board Best Practices?
24:25 Who is Leading the Way?
29:24 Key Takeaways for Risky Women
Kimberley Cole 0:01
This is Risky Women Radio, a show that connects, celebrates and champions women in risk regulation and compliance. We’re here to share the insights on the biggest issues in our industry and hear inspiring journeys from our global members. Sign up to our newsletter at riskywomen.org. I’m Kimberley Cole, your Chief Risky Woman.
Kimberley Cole 0:25
Welcome to Risky Women Radio. Today’s risky woman is Dr. Juliet Bourke. Dr. Juliet Bourke is an award winning author, speaker, and advocate for diversity. She was the former human capital partner at Deloitte leading Deloitte’s diversity and inclusion consulting agenda. She continues to work with global clients to create cultural change through a focus on leadership, high performing teams, and diversity and inclusion. She has over 25 years experience in human capital management and law. And her latest book entitled, “Which two heads are better than one?” is in its second edition, and helps leaders understand how to systematically create diverse thinking and take team’s performance to the next level. There are many other excellent reports that she has published, including some great articles, some of which we will cover today. So welcome, Juliet, great to have you join from Australia while I’m sitting here in rainy London.
Juliet Bourke 1:28
Well, hello, Kimberley and hello from sunny Australia. It’s summer, obviously it’s January. So we’re in quite different conditions to you. But Hello, hello.
Kimberley Cole 1:40
Indeed! Well, look, that bio that I read really only touches on a few areas in your career journey. And I know we met many years ago, when you were leading the task force on care costs. And you’ve done so many other things. And I would sort of call you out as an entrepreneur, you now sit on boards, as well as having academic roles. So take us on that career journey and give us some more of the highlights.
Juliet Bourke 2:07
Oh, so I’m 57. So I suppose it’s a bit of a career journey there. And yes, a highlight was definitely working with you on the task force on care costs. I started life, professional life, as a criminal lawyer, actually. So working for the Director of Public Prosecutions prosecuting federal crime that’s sort of like drug crimes and things like that. So that was a very interesting beginning to my career, taught me a lot about evidence based decision making and critical thinking. And then I turned a little corner and became an employment lawyer. So then I was dealing with human rights law issues. Did that at the Australian Human Rights Commission for a few years. And then yeah, you’re right to say I became an entrepreneur, so I set up a business, which was a boutique consulting business. And I think that’s where we met, I started working in the field of diversity in about 2000, which was definitely ahead of the game, it was not a word on anyone’s lips then. And that was all about research and advice for leaders organizational change, worked in that business for 12 years, sold it to Deloitte and became a partner in Deloitte and I was a partner in Deloitte for 10 years, and then a couple of years ago, pivoted again. Finished my PhD, I have become a professor of practice at the University of New South Wales Business School, sit on a few boards and continue to consult to leaders around the world on these issues.
Kimberley Cole 3:44
Fantastic. It’s an amazing story. So what are you working on at the moment?
Juliet Bourke 3:48
A few things. So one of the roles is that I chair the 30% Club in Australia, which also exists, obviously, and started in the UK. And I chair the 30% Club, education working group. And I hope we’re going to talk about that report today. We did a report early in 2022. And consulting to lots of different organizations, usually their leaders around the world working a key area for me is inclusive leadership and helping leaders to improve their, I suppose their ability to lead diverse workforces. I sit on Ovarian Cancer Australia, which has a fantastic board. And so I suppose if you had to wrap that up, it’s a little bit of academia, board work, and consulting work in a very nice, balanced, fun life.
Kimberley Cole 4:43
And there’s a lot of talk about sort of purpose and passion now in roles and what people think of in a career. So when you think about your career, how do you think about I guess both the impact of things that you’ve done because obviously there’s a lot of very interesting things there, as well as, you know, that purpose and passion that sort of sits at the heart of it all.
Juliet Bourke 5:08
Yeah, it’s definitely, my career has definitely been purpose driven. And even though I started in criminal law, and then pivoted to human rights law, and then sort of slightly pivoted, again to diversity, the red thread that draws all of those together is social justice, and my strong belief that, you know, I’ve been given so many opportunities in life, and it’s my responsibility as well to make sure those opportunities are given to others. And really, Kimberley, that, for me was at the heart of the work that we did together on the task force on care costs, thinking about how the cost of care whether that was elder care, or disability, or childcare was prohibitive for many people in terms of them remaining in the workforce. And so we work together to advocate for policy change at the federal government level, to level set that disparity, that financial disparity for people. So that for me, has given me inner drive to want to create a fairer community / workplace. And I think then the influence that I’ve ended up having in different arenas has been because, well, partly, the zeitgeist now thinks that diversity and inclusion is very important. So you know, right person, right time, but also, because I’m very curious, and I keep being driven to want to understand the issues that I’m engaging with. And for me, understanding comes through research and writing and speaking. So what I’m going through what I’m experiencing, I then research around it, and then I publish it again, and partly for myself to try and make sense of what I’m seeing in the world around me. But obviously, that ends up having a positive impact on other people when they read my work. For example, the articles that I’ve published in the Harvard Business Review, have resonated with people, I seem to have captured a few bits of the Zeitgeist.
Kimberley Cole 7:23
Fantastic. And obviously, you talked about these several pivots that you’ve made through your career, what are the biggest risks that you feel that you’ve taken through that career? And did they pay off?
Juliet Bourke 7:36
Let me answer the second question first, yes, they absolutely paid off, but I wasn’t certain at the time that they were going to pay off. So I definitely took risks. I suppose the first major risk was when I went from being a government lawyer with a stable income to setting up a business. And so I had saved six months worth of wages behind me in case we didn’t get any work at all. And I was 34 at the time and pregnant with my second child. So I had a lot of expenses, but decided to set up a business, there was no one that I knew in my family who could guide me around that, everyone else had been an employee. So there were a lot of things that were risky, but I really had this mantra in my mind, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And anyway I set up a business and it was successful. It ran, as I said, for 12 years, we ended up having 10 employees, and then I sold it to Deloitte. So that was successful. And then I think a second big risk was when I was a partner in Deloitte in 2018 I decided to take a six month sabbatical. And I didn’t know anyone who’d taken a sabbatical at that time. And it certainly wasn’t something that was encouraged. And it was this moment where in some ways people would say, you know, you are at the height of your career, why would you take your foot off the pedal, but my daughter had finished school, she was having a gap year, I really wanted to make this sort of preventative move, I didn’t want to burn out. And it’s those roles in those large consulting firms are all consuming. So I had this little hot breath of fear at my neck, which is, you know, you’re crazy for doing this, the world will move on and you’ll be left behind. But, in fact, it’s not what happened. We had an absolutely fabulous experience and my husband as well, incidentally, he also felt that his career might be left behind and he was even more at risk. He was a barrister at the time. And in fact, what happened when he came back, he was made a judge. So I think those two moments for me, were moments where I backed myself, and they turned out really well. And I think that who could have known that COVID meant we would stay at at home for a number of years, I dined off the memories of the six months worth of memories of we lived in Italy, we would go somewhere every weekend, we studied Italian, we made new friends. So I’m just so glad that we did that, then we wouldn’t have been able to do it for a few years later. So yeah, it was a fantastic experience to have. And in a weird way as well, not just learning Italian, I decided, that’s when I’d start my PhD. So I sat in a cafe each day and would write another 1000 words, and that in itself was a joy. So yeah, I do think taking those calculated risks in my life has definitely paid off directly in terms of experiences, but also giving me confidence in myself.
Kimberley Cole 10:46
Yeah, that’s a great story and timing and a bit of luck, I think contributes to a lot of people’s careers. So that’s a fantastic story, and really inspiring. And if you think about what’s the top piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Juliet Bourke 11:01
I, you know, to be honest, I don’t know that I have been given a top bit of advice. I feel like, I have heard the advice that people have given me when the time was right. I mean, I’ve probably been given advice all my life, and maybe I haven’t listened to it as closely as I needed to. I am an advice seeker from other people, you know, what would you do in this situation? So there’s probably a range of things, but taking a risk, and I love the way that you’ve framed this podcast, taking a risk, nothing ventured, nothing gained is probably the first one. And then I think the other piece of advice that I took right time, once again, was peacock today, feather duster tomorrow. And it was that advice. Don’t take yourself too seriously, when everyone else is sort of blowing smoke in your direction and telling you how wonderful you are, you know, just keep your feet on the ground. You’re just human.
Kimberley Cole 11:59
I like that, I like that “peacock today, feather duster tomorrow!” And I guess just to wrap up then, if you had a magic wand, and there’s one thing that you could change, what would that be?
Juliet Bourke 12:13
I wonder if I would change just the anxiety that I would go through when I had my own business worrying about Will I get work? Because especially when you’ve got employees, you know, Will we have enough work. And so I probably chewed up a lot of energy in that. And the last couple of years since I’ve left Deloitte, two years now, I’m trying to back myself more to know, the work will come in, you know, I never can quite see a pipeline beyond three to six months. And I I’ve been around long enough now. And hopefully my reputation precedes me with people that there will be work that comes in. So yeah, probably just to back myself. And know that good work with good people, purposeful work with meaning, and impact will come my way.
Kimberley Cole 13:09
Excellent. So I guess we really want to get into your expert opinion piece here and talk about some of the reports, this series that I’m doing, I call the Risk Radar. And it’s really taking a 360 degree view of all of the risks around what leaders need to be thinking about. And that’s across a whole range of different things. But certainly the environmental, social and governance areas that capture so many of the potential risks for business. And so I loved the report that you did recently with the 30% Club. And this whole kind of concept of future fitness. And also, I guess, looking at culture risk. And I really think that it was an interesting report you were looking at whether boards, and therefore organizations that those boards govern, are set up to successfully navigate what is an increasingly complex, global and unstable landscape. And we can sort of talk about that landscape a little bit to set the scene. But you looked at both what needs to stay the same, but what needs to change, and how does diversity fit in as part of that future fitness? So I’d love to sort of explore that a bit more with you. So I guess starting off, can you talk about the challenges for boards and organizations and what things they need to have as front of mind?
Juliet Bourke 14:40
Yeah, and I’m so glad, Kimberley, that you’ve picked up on this report. I also think it’s a really important report. And of course, we were looking at diversity. It’s the 30% Club from the angle of gender diversity, but we wanted to go much broader than that and to situate the conversation around gender diversity in a bigger story around, what sort of diversity do you need at the tops of organizations on boards? And how will that enable organizations to most successfully navigate the exigencies in their environment? And what do I mean by that? Obviously, with COVID-19, it’s set up for us and awareness of health based issues and how they can just run through a society in ways that we hadn’t anticipated. Although when I say we hadn’t anticipated in fact, there was quite a lot of research that had been done by the US government on what would happen if there was a pandemic. And I had read that research back in 2013 2015, I’d written a report, which was looking at workforce 2030, and had read all of that. And yeah, yeah, pandemic, and along with a number of other things, you know, changing demographics and technology disruptions. And I wrote about it, but I didn’t really capture it in my heart, so to speak, I didn’t really take it on board as a deep Yeah, that’s going to happen, it was more that’s the stuff of science fiction movies. So I think a lot of this thinking around the future is actually already with us, we just don’t pick up on it until it seems we’ve had the lived experience, which is disappointing that humans have to go through it in that way. And this report, as well as trying to say, Okay, if we take on board, something like a pandemic, what else is there out there, that boards should be looking at, when they’re thinking about the skills that they need to have in terms of board composition, so that they can navigate that more effectively. So we interviewed 31 non executive directors on the top boards in Australia, as well as doing focus groups with investors and recruiters, and identified really 12 forces of disruption on this increasingly complex environment, health obviously, being one of them, but digital, empowered employees, environment, sustainability, geopolitical tensions, you know, regulatory oversight, community expectations, supply chain, technology, for example. And if that’s right, and what I said a moment ago is, what does that mean for the composition of boards? And the challenge that we have when we look at composition is that everyone wants board members with some stripes on their back, you know, they’ve got some war wounds, let’s say. But we also need people who have sort of a new set of skills. And so it’s this plus situation, how do you make sure that you’ve got that sort of stability and the governance and the financial expertise, as well as having some skills in some areas that we really don’t know a lot about, and your digital change is a skill of the now in the future. But if you’ve got board members who’ve been there for 3, 6, 9 years, they might not be adept at those digital skills they may be but you know, they may not be that might not have been their role. So we sort of had this big picture in mind, what does it mean? Should we look again at the composition of boards and see if diversity fits in there? And as you know, from that book that I wrote, I’m very interested in diversity of thinking, the 30% Club itself is interested in diversity, gender diversity. And is there an intersection between the two of them? And bottom line answer is there is.
Kimberley Cole 18:31
You sort of outlined the challenges and obviously we talked about it’s increasingly complex, there’s a lot of change going on, and a whole lot of different risks. But what are the risks of not evolving? And if that cost, and that risk enough to help drive that change?
Juliet Bourke 18:49
So interestingly enough, some of the directors that we interviewed, looked at some of the crises that had happened for an organization. So say, for example, there were a number of them that seemed to be very human related. Now, of course, I’m going to pick up on that because I’ve got a very strong sort of human bent in the way that I look at the world. But crises where for example, one organization, which was a retail organization, and this is unique to Australia, but I’m sure your listeners can situate it within the UK or wherever they’re sitting. There are communities in Australia, Aboriginal communities, which are dry communities, that is that they try and keep alcohol out of them because alcohol and these communities have not been friends. And this particular retail organization decided to set up two outlets that sold alcohol right near these communities. And they were entitled to do so. But it really wasn’t good for these communities. And it caused an uproar. And we’ve also saw issues in relation to Rio which is mine and company and there had been the destruction of some Aboriginal artifacts in terribly important locations. And once again, the organization thought it had done the right thing and had consulted and it was okay. But actually, it wasn’t okay to the community, the Aboriginal community and the broader Australian community. Anyway, two examples, they just happen to be about Aboriginal people, but pick your poison, in terms of issues that the community feels strongly about. And what the board members said is that if there had been more diversity of thinking on the board, maybe they would have taken a different approach to those decisions. So as a sort of preventative coating, having diversity of thinking on the board stops you making bad decisions, you might think of it even more positively, is that when you have diversity of thinking on the board, and this idea came from one board member on Telstra, which is an Australian telco. And what she said is that your competitors, as an organization, are not necessarily who you think of today, big similar telcos. But there’s someone sitting in a hoodie in a garage somewhere. And if you’re not tapped into the diversity of thinking that’s needed at the board level, you’ll actually be left behind. So it’s not just a protection from damage, but also your failure to grasp commercial opportunities, if you don’t have diversity of thinking on the board. And that’s not even taking into account what we just said, all these sort of futuristic disruptions, which show us that those risks and opportunities are multifaceted. So two sides of the coin.
Kimberley Cole 21:55
Yes, which we cover that a lot that in the Chinese language, risk and opportunity are the same word, so different sides of the coin. So the focus then, you know, this need to focus on this sort of future fitness. So you’re gonna get into what are the best practice, you know, kind of governance principles that support that future fitness. And I guess, some of those things about what’s getting in the way of focusing on that?
Juliet Bourke 22:19
Yeah. So I think, you know, governance principle there is that you have, the composition of the board fits the strategy that you’ve got. That sounds good on paper. But what actually happens in reality, is that probably 60% plus, certainly that’s true of the ASX200. And I suspect that’s true when I’ve looked at other countries, board composition, comprises people who have been the CEO or the CFO. So it really is this view that the best people on boards are people who have sat at the top of the operational apex as the CEO or the top of the financial apex. And yet, what I also heard from the people that we interviewed is, I don’t need six CEOs around the board table. In fact, I found that very difficult to deal with, because often it’s six alpha males. And that’s not actually a helpful scenario. So when we sort of unpack diversity, a bit more governance looks like, yes, we need people with strong financial acumen and good operational experience. But we actually need to be broader than that, if we’re going to have strategies that are trying to encompass if they’re sort of a global company, then working across diverse markets, if you’re a tech company, making sure you’re up to date with tech, if you’re any company, making sure you’re tapped into your consumer base. So re-looking at the composition of boards to say, Well, how many people do we need to be deep experts in those areas? So it’s sort of a plus thing. Yes, we need financial fluency for everyone. And we need people on boards who understand how businesses operate. But in addition to that, what else is it that we need to help us navigate these new complexities?
Kimberley Cole 24:21
Yeah, that’s really interesting. Who do you think is leading the way?
Juliet Bourke 24:25
It was actually very hard to find people who were leading the way. I feel like this is almost a new conversation for boards to have with themselves. And interestingly, what we’ve done over the past 12 months is to socialize this report at a very intimate level, like hosting a lot of boardroom lunches, which is why I was so pleased that you wanted to do this podcast to get it out there. We certainly did find some people leading the way and one of them is John Mullins who’s the Chair of Telstra, whom I mentioned before, and he looked at his board when he became chair in 2016. He looked at his strategy, what are we trying to achieve? And then he looked again, at board composition, do I have the right people? And he has 10 people on his board. And he earmarked three roles to really take some risk with in terms of finding people who weren’t the cookie cutter board member, that you would find these fantastic people that he found and deeply experienced, but actually a little bit left field. And his attitude towards that was, three people aren’t going to break the board, and they might give me the edge that I need. So one of those people was Bridget Loudon, who is the CEO of a sort of new tech company, 360. She had worked at Bain. She hadn’t been on a board before. And now she was working on an ASX top 10 board. So he took a risk on her. So I think if we’re looking for change agents, it’s actually board chairs that are taking a risk on board members who haven’t had that pedigree that they all sort of draw from the same talent pool. There’s this sort of mantra that I hear over and over again, which is, if you’ve got your first board, then you’ll get your second board. No one wants to take a risk on untried board members on the FTSE100 or any top level board. So you end up drawing from this smaller and smaller pool of people. And everyone knows everyone, and everyone has a great degree of comfort then. But you’re not actually getting that diversity of thinking with people who are on the fringe of those board experiences.
Kimberley Cole 26:48
Yes. And given the amount of change and as you said, trying to identify new opportunities and understanding where those non traditional competitors coming from it becomes increasingly important.
Juliet Bourke 26:58
Kimberley Cole 26:59
What did you find surprising in the study, and what was most disappointing?
Juliet Bourke 27:04
I suppose what was surprising in a way was just the range of things that people thought were really important from a skills point of view, ranging from sort of digital was the most important, in addition to what I’ve just said, about governance and financial skills, you know, the traditional stuff, digital, and then stakeholder engagement being much more important than I had anticipated, your ability as a board member to deal with a wide variety of people and that was pleasing to see. And then number three was workforce, HR and culture. It wasn’t a surprise, but I think to see it come up as number three, digital number one, community stakeholder management, number two on workforce HR and culture is number three, I suppose a surprised to hear where it’s at in the rankings. Think what was disappointing to me or a challenge was the number of board directors that we spoke to, that women and men who really didn’t want to take a risk. They didn’t want to put someone onto the board, who came from a different background, I think, to actually hear that out of lips, out of the mouths of some of these very influential board members, I was disappointed by that. I just expected more from these people who are at the top of their game, but their aversion to risk was so high that they would rather have people who had gone down a well trodden path of being board directors on multiple top boards, than influencing their board to take on someone who was different. That’s a bit sad.
Kimberley Cole 29:00
Yes, it’s almost the no one got fired for buying IBM kind of motto that you just gonna to stick to the tried and true. But, you know, you’re clearly not going to break out in any kind of growth scenarios doing that. We’re going to put this link in to the report, and I hope everyone reads it. But if we’re going to just give some key takeaways to our Risky Women listeners to focus on what would they be?
Juliet Bourke 29:24
I think if you’re in a position of influence, those Risky Women, then use that position of influence to advocate for greater diversity of thinking on boards. And when we say Risky Women, in particular, looking at the fact that there was a real intersection between the areas of capability on boards that were missing, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief People Officer, Chief Risk Officer, and women because women are often in those roles. So they were fewer women, there are fewer women who are in the CEO CFO roles even COO to a degree. So bit of a male domination in those areas. So if you’re listening to me and you are a woman on a board, especially as a chair, then use your powerful voice to advocate for women in a different way, which is around a different set of skills. And I think if you’re a woman who is aspiring to one of these roles, then I think take comfort from this report that this report is supportive of the choices that you’re making in your career. To stay in the game, rather than, you know, this sort of old adage, which is no move out of one of these functional roles, make sure you get a line role, because the line role is so much more important than a functional role. And I actually think line roles and functional roles are equally important. So stay the game.
Kimberley Cole 30:59
Fabulous. So now we just have our little Risky Women wrap up at the end just to close out. So if we think about it, are you optimistic, pessimistic or neutral for your outlook in the year ahead?
Juliet Bourke 31:12
I am fundamentally an optimistic person. So I am optimistic about the year ahead, notwithstanding the fact that I think there’s a lot of talk around moving into a recession. In the UK and the US in particular, I’m still optimistic. I think that there are some good financial bones still globally there. You know, obviously, we’ve seen terrible things this year, Iran, Ukraine. But I still believe in the goodness of humans and that we will come through it. I’ve started moving towards listening to I don’t know if you know, the Good News Movement, listening to more of the good news and making sure I get a balance in my diet. And not, don’t just listen to the CNN and the BBC all the time. So I am optimistic. And I think I’m helping myself to maintain that optimism by actually looking at the good things that have happened in the world, and not just the sadness.
Kimberley Cole 32:10
Excellent. So then recommend a book to read or something to watch or a podcast that you recommend for our audience.
Juliet Bourke 32:19
There’s a book that I just finished reading recently, I really loved it, it’s called the Trust by Hernan Diaz. I’m going to put myself out there and say, it’s going to be up in the Booker Prize somewhere. It’s a book that has feminist undercurrent to it. And it’s beautifully written. And it is a story of the sort of 1920s crash, and then written through the lens of three different eyes. Yeah, if anyone reads it, which I hope they do, it’s on the New York Times bestseller at the moment, and it came in at number three on Barack Obama’s, I want to say I read it before I heard those things. They’re just confirming my view. If you are reading it, and it’s a book written in three parts. And you read the second part, and you think, Oh, my God, this book is terrible. This is trash, I want to put it down. There’s a very good reason why the second part of the book is so terrible. So just push your way through, and then you will come to the delightful third part, and it all makes sense. So that’s my Booker Prize tip.
Kimberley Cole 33:27
That’s intriguing. Okay, I think everyone should read it. And then let’s end with a key message or thought or quote that you’d like to end with to inspire our Risky Women.
Juliet Bourke 33:41
There’s one that I actually read from Emma Thompson this week, I was sort of going down a Google rabbit hole, thinking about I really admire her. And she said this, she said, it’s about activism and assertiveness in women. What I feel is that we all need to speak up. And a woman who has a louder voice needs to shout very loudly indeed.
Kimberley Cole 34:05
Mmm. Very nice. Well, thank you very much, Juliet. It’s been a pleasure as always to speak with you. And I’m so happy that we finally got you to join us on Risky Women Radio.
Juliet Bourke 34:18
Thank you for having me. And well done for setting this up Kimberley. I think it’s fantastic.
Kimberley Cole 34:23
Excellent. All right. Well, look forward to seeing you soon. And thanks for being a Risky Woman, and you.
Kimberley Cole 34:32
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