The role of companies and their boards in tackling social issues

Sam Mostyn AICD

Source: Women's Agenda

Governments globally are struggling and failing to solve significant environmental and social issues, especially as more are constrained by having to form coalitions with minority parties.

In response, we’re seeing major companies taking a stronger stand on social issues, and also aiming to contribute resources and ideas on helping to solve complex challenges. Not only because it’s the ‘right thing to do’, but often because it’s the necessary thing to do for their own longevity, and in support of their own employees, customers and stakeholders.

Such increased responsibilities for companies mean diversity in decision-making, particularly when it comes to the makeup of company boards, is more important than ever before.

This week at the relaunch of the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ member magazine Company Director, director Sam Mostyn shared some thoughts on the future of Australian business and the importance of good governance.

She believes it’s a future that could see more responsibilities placed on board directors, as companies help to solve the problems that governments can’t. This includes everything from health to housing, the design of cities, inequality and climate change.

“These big questions have entered the boardroom,” she said.

“We’re seeing strange coalitions being formed by governments all over the world. As a result, they are not able to deal with the big issues and companies are being asked to step up.”

Mostyn believes this may be somewhat frightening for company directors, but such responsibilities can also be exciting given the impact directors can have.

But the effectiveness of boards will rely on the diversity of those involved, and their abilities to listen, consider and engage.

“Who is at the table matters,” she said, noting that we need to move beyond gender diversity alone.

“A great board is one of people who are fully invested in that conversation and can sit, reflect and engage in that conversation. They also know the limits of their understanding.”

She added that great directors have humility, curiosity, and courage.

Mostyn said organisations of all types will face significant change in the coming years, and collaboration could be key for staying ahead, especially with Australia coming out of the mining boom and as AI and automation continue to transform how we work.

Mostyn is featured on the cover of the revamped first edition, edited by journalist and author Narelle Hooper.

She told Hooper that she comes across many women who say they have been told they should join a not-for-profit board as a stepping stone to corporate boards.

“I think the reverse is true now. Corporate boards should look for people with broader NFP experience. A better director is someone who sits across multiple parts of the economy and society and uses that insight.”

Mostyn added in the magazine’s cover story that she’s encouraged by the fact the board diversity conversation is shifting to one that’s more about inclusion.

“A diverse board is interesting, but a board brought together where everyone is included and celebrated for the differences they bring — to me, that would describe a board acting at its highest.”

This article was first published on Women’s Agenda

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