Case study: Queensland Heritage Council Board
Established under the Queensland Heritage Act 1992 the Queensland Heritage Council (QHC) has the important task of identifying and protecting places that have special heritage value to the Queensland community and future generations. The QHC recently achieved its first ever female majority in its history with 8 women and 4 men on its 12-member board. We chatted with Fiona Gardiner, a Director from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, to find out more.
Reaching out to professional and community organisations
Professional organisations played a key role in providing female board candidates. Here Fiona and her team took a broad approach by writing letters, followed by calls, to as many organisations as possible—including professional associations, universities, conservation groups, and historical societies—emphasising they were looking for gender balanced candidates.
My background is an architect, so I rang the professional associations [in architecture] to let them know we are looking for gender balance so we [her team] used our personal networks wherever possible.
As a result, a total of 52 letters were sent to organisations inviting them to submit gender-balanced candidates. From this process, several of the current female board members appointed were identified.
As Fiona says:
Recruiters need to expand their personal network if they are looking for a diverse meritorious group of candidates.
Contacting individual female candidates
Fiona and her team also contacted individuals who had previously applied or expressed interest in joining the QHC board, including individuals whom they thought might be interested to submit a nomination. From this, they were able to connect to 26 individuals, inviting them to nominate, adding further to the pool of the already strong female candidates.
A strong female candidate list
Through Fiona and her team’s efforts, they were able to submit a strong female candidate list to the relevant Minister for consideration. In total, 66 nominations were received, of which 23 were female candidates. All the nominations were assessed against the criteria and a list of 23 meritorious candidates—which included 10 very meritorious females—was submitted to the Minister.
A high calibre female board majority
Initially gender balance was one of the objectives of the new board but, given the strong female candidate pool, it resulted in the Minister appointing the QHC’s first ever female majority and second female chair in its history, consisting of 8 women and 4 men, a reversal of the previous board’s make up. When the Minister made the announcement, Fiona says:
I was delightfully surprised when the final decision was made. It was to do with the high calibre of the women who nominated.
Making it known that gender balance is an objective of the new board can empower the whole process. Fiona says:
Knowing that there is a directive from the Premier to achieve gender balance on the board was empowering for someone like me, so I could talk to women and encourage them to nominate themselves for a board position. Women knew that they weren’t just putting their name up for any ordinary board nomination process, but they knew they were in a process where there would be gender balance.
As Fiona found 'this was very important for women'.
In helping to achieve gender balance, persistency helps. In one instance, Fiona recalls reaching out to an industry association for gender balanced candidates only to receive male candidates. Here she sent the candidate list back to them reiterating the importance of having a gender balanced candidate list. From this, a gender-balanced candidate list was submitted, with one of the female candidates appointed by the Minister onto the current board. As Fiona says:
It’s about being persistent; continue working at it and you’ll get the right candidates.
Moving forward—maintaining and embedding the change
The Queensland Government has made gender parity on government bodies a priority.
Fiona reflects that there is a move towards adopting shadowing and mentoring programs for advancing women into leadership roles. Fiona is aware that other boards have experienced successes by implementing these programs and is adamant about embedding this in the culture of her department.
These programs are designed to increase the confidence of women to take on board roles. For example, shadowing someone on a board offers opportunity for various interactions and real lessons to be learned from other board members.
As Fiona says:
I am now thinking towards how we embed this concept in the department to ensure that we continue to achieve diversity on our boards.
A key to future success is also getting candidates into board readiness programs.
With board readiness programs tailored for women to give them better skills, to become more confident and give them an insight into being a board member, we can attract and keep women in board positions.
Expanding the network reach
A key focus for Fiona and her team is to broaden their search for potential board members. This is particularly important for the QHC, as there are positions in the Act that look to gain rural representation.
Fiona is confident that, by promoting vacancies to new channels, they will reach a broader demographic. Platforms such as the Women on Boards website, the Women on Boards Queensland LinkedIn group, and rural women’s networks can be of great help. This will, in turn, increase the diversity of nominations that the QHC will receive.
We can look at different target areas like LinkedIn and social media. We can do better and go broader.