In 2020 the percentage of women represented on corporate boards in Canada is 18.1%.
Not only does this lack of diversity lead to less effective decision making, but the lack of female representation discourages many women from even considering the possibility of becoming board members.
But if you want to meet the woman who has made it her own social purpose in life to turn this situation around, then you’re going to get a lot out of episode #153 on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.
That’s because Deborah Rosatti is our guest for this show. Deborah is the CEO of Women Get On Board, an organization that connects, promotes and empowers women to corporate boards. She is also a sought-after speaker on board diversity, governance, and entrepreneurship.
In this episode you’ll learn:
Deborah Rosati, FCPA, FCA, ICD.D
Corporate Director, Founder & CEO, Women Get On Board Inc.
Deborah Rosati is an accomplished corporate director, entrepreneur, Fellow Chartered Professional Accountant (FCPA) and certified Corporate Director (ICD.D) with more than 30 years of experience in technology, consumer, retail, cannabis, private equity and venture capital. An experienced Audit Committee and Nominating & Corporate Governance Committee chair, Deborah provides extensive knowledge as a Corporate Director in the areas of financial and enterprise risk management, corporate strategy, transformational changes, M&A, corporate governance and CEO and board succession planning.
Deborah currently leads and serves as a Corporate Director for Khiron Life Sciences Corp. (TSXV:KHRN) and Audit Committee Chair and Lift & Co.(TSX-V: LIFT) as Vice Chair and Chair of the Audit Committee. Deborah recently served on the board of MedReleaf (TSX:LEAF) as the Chair of the Audit Committee (-acquired by AuroraCannabis (TSX: ACB)- July 2018, as well as she chaired the Audit Committee, for NexJ Systems (TSX:NXJ) and was on the board of Sears Canada (TSX: SCC).
She is the Founder & CEO of Women Get On Board, a leading member-based company that connects, promotes and empowers women to corporate boards. Deborah has been selected as a Diversity 50 2014 candidate and was recognized in 2012 as one of WXN’s Top 100 Canada’s Most Powerful Women in the corporate director award category.
Deborah’s thought leadership on corporate governance, board diversity and entrepreneurship-are profiled on her website: www.deborahrosati.ca
You can get in touch with Deborah at http://deborahrosati.ca/
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Gordon Sheppard: Did you know that the percentage of women on corporate boards in Canada is 18.1%? and did you also know that there’s a woman who has made it her own social purpose in life to change that statistic for the better? Her name is Deborah Rosati and we are interviewing her here today on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.
Are you a professional who wants to become a more effective leader? Then get ready for practical tips from the coach with the experience and inspiration to help you succeed in any leadership situation. You’re listening to the Meeting Leadership Podcast with Gordon Sheppard.
Welcome to another episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast. My name is Gordon Sheppard and I just want to say thank you for being here. Thank you for being the type of leader who really wants to make sure they add another skill to their toolkit, the type of leader who knows that to be a great leader you have to know how to run a great meeting. And if you want to run a great meeting you know that you have to be a great leader and you’re coming to this podcast to listen to the inspirational interviews. You’re getting the practical tips and you’re taking that back and you’re taking action. It’s really good to have you here.
And I also want to let you know that this episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast is brought to you by the Meeting Leadership Academy. Now there, you’re going to find some really solid online training options and live training options as well. For groups of up to 25 and even more even at conferences and this kind of thing, there is workshop material that is making a direct impact for professionals from engineers to doctors to lawyers, to accountants, to senior leaders and more. And you can learn all about it by going to meeting leadershipinc.com/academy.
And now I am really excited to introduce today’s show. It’s called, How Women Can Become Leaders in The Boardroom. And that is with Deborah Rosati. And like I mentioned in that quick introduction, Deborah has made it her own social purpose in life to change the reality of corporate board makeups across Canada for the better. She wants to make sure that she encourages women to get involved in so many different ways, so much so that she is actually the founder and CEO of Women Get On Board. Now this is a leading member based company that connects, promotes and empowers women to get onto corporate boards.
And if you had another hour we could actually go through the entire resume that Deborah’s racked up in her 30 year career. But let me just give you a few highlights. Now Deborah is also an accomplished corporate director. She’s an entrepreneur. She’s a fellow chartered professional accountant and a certified corporate director. And she has held many different roles on many different boards everywhere from corporate director to the audit committee chair role and a whole bunch more. And I have to say, you’re going to get a lot out of today’s interview, so I’m not going to hold you back any longer. Here’s the terrific interview with Deborah.
Deborah, welcome to the show.
Deborah Rosati: Thank you, Gordon.
Gordon Sheppard: It is really so lucky to have someone with your pedigree on the show. I mean the resume, it goes on and on and on, but there’s going to be a lot of people here who don’t know you. So if you had to introduce yourself, what would you say?
Deborah Rosati: If I was to introduce myself, I’m Deborah Rosati. I am a corporate director and I am founder and CEO of Women Get On Board.
Gordon Sheppard: This is a mission that you are on, right, with Women Get On Board. And again, folks aren’t going to know exactly what this organization does. So tell us, where’d you get the spark as a founder and what is it about? And what should people know about it?
Deborah Rosati: Well, thank you, Gordon. It is my social purpose in life, my mission, my mandate is to get one more woman on a board, one woman at a time. I began my career as a corporate director serving on boards almost 20 years ago and common thread through all of the boards that I served on, whether that was technology, consumer, retail and more recently cannabis, I was most predominantly the only woman. Occasionally there might be another woman around the boardroom table with me at the same time as a serving corporate director. And over the years I would have women ask me how I got on a board or how could they get on a board. I would speak at leadership conferences and I actually titled my [inaudible 00:04:29], Women Get On Board because I wanted to make it action-oriented. I wanted to make it affirmative. And so I decided it was bigger than oneself and in 2015 launched a company that is a member based and our mandate is to connect, promote and empower women to corporate boards.
Gordon Sheppard: Well, and I was just spending some time on the Women Get On Board Website and there’s a list of folks that have been either placed or recommended or whatever it is. Again, it’s like an all star team on there in terms of the folks that you’re actually getting out into the marketplace. I was inspired by one of your talks when we were at a women’s leadership conference in San Diego. Took the time to get to meet you and what stunned me was the numbers game. So take us through the current state of affairs from a sort of percentage point of view and where you sort of hope and see the future going for women on boards.
Deborah Rosati: So current state of affairs as of 2019, the data in Canada has it at 18.1% of corporate boards of listed companies have women on them. Now that range is depending on size and stage. But if you take the collective TSX listed companies in Canada, and I’m taking the data points from [inaudible 00:05:40], they do a diversity disclosure report every year and the annual one last year was 18.1 maybe 18.2. So I like to reverse that and say basically if 80% of your boards are made up of men, we need to get more women on boards and those women that are on boards need to lean in and look for other women that are qualified for our potential board opportunities.
So where do I see it going? I see more women getting on boards, their data saying of the opening, the board renewal, the board searches. There’s sometimes women being typed on boards that might not have had any women on the board. So that’s increasing. But overall 18.1% is not a good enough number as we lead into 2020. So we all can be better, we all can do better. And I like to say we all can be agents of change to accelerate that number and increase the number of women on boards.
Gordon Sheppard: Well, and we all can do better for a whole bunch of reasons. I mean, it’s better for society. Of course, it’s better to represent the, whatever it is, the 50/50 roughly population thing if you want to get down to that numbers game. But in fact, diversity is more profitable for these companies. So why wouldn’t you at the top start to explore this aspect of diversity beyond all the other things you have to get into?
Deborah Rosati: Yes, there is data out there that says more women on boards, better business performance, better diversity of thought, better decision making. Most recently there was report that came out that said more diversity around the board, fewer financial misrepresentation or financial fraud, financial restatements for a whole array of data and research that says that, it makes good business sense to have more women around the board and more diversity of thought.
I think it comes from a culture. It comes from a mindset and if 80% of your board are men, they’re very comfortable around their same or similar. And so there needs to definitely be a much broader broadening of the mindset of where that potential skillset comes for new board members. I don’t think all board members have to be CEOs. They can have lots of experience in different C-level positions. They can come from different industries. So I really believe it is a mindset and it’s a cultural shift kind of going where the hockey puck is, going where you think the hockey puck is going to go, not where it is currently.
Gordon Sheppard: Thank you, Mr. Gretzky. I certainly appreciate the analogy of taking it and we know this work needs to be done and for me, when I hear folks like yourself who can draw on so many different sources because you’re soaked in it, this idea then of if someone’s got a profit motive, this is a good idea. Somebody wants to change the world, this is a good idea. Find the ways to get the word out and I know that you’re beating the drum consistently. You’ve been doing that now, what, getting on your fifth year in this sort of passion project. And I remember when I saw your talk, this was coming across in spades and a big piece of it that came across was your kind of straightforward brass tacks ability to convey to the women in the room some of the inner dialogue that they need to switch for themselves as they kind of self-empower. So when it comes to leadership in the board room for women, where would you start them off if you want to sort of give them a few tips?
Deborah Rosati: Well I say be fearless and embrace change and go in with confidence. I think as women we underestimate our skills and our abilities. And if we don’t have 100% of the skillset for a particular board, we won’t apply. If we don’t know all the answers, we won’t put our name forward. And you know what? Sometimes you just really have to go out of their comfort zone. And consistently throughout my career I switched industries. I spent 20 plus years in the tech industry and then I went into retail and consumer opportunities as a board member and most recently cannabis. And you know what? I was embracing change in each and every opportunity. I had to assess them and I had to be fearless because there was no undoing it. I didn’t have a role model. I didn’t have a mentor that was saying, “Hey, look at me, I’ve done this.” I really had to be fearless in my own personal leadership approach.
Gordon Sheppard: Have you always been fearless? I mean, was there a moment when you were like, were you born with fearlessness? How’d you take that on?
Deborah Rosati: Well, I’ll give you a good analogy. I have a brother who’s two years older than myself and he was going to kindergarten. He didn’t want to go and being two years younger than him, I told my mom I would go in his place. So I think it started at a young age.
Gordon Sheppard: So you’ve had that all the way along. But let’s just say honestly the majority of women don’t. And we see this across, I’m going to say politics, leadership roles just in general. I think you said that thing that I’ve heard resonating from other women on the podcast who are talking about this thing of if I don’t have 100% of the credentials. So it’s one thing to say be fearless, but you would’ve been in mentor moments where you help transformation occur with specific people along the way. Without naming names, can you give an example of where you’ve been able to be encouraging and what was the language that you gave to that person to be encouraging, to be fearless?
Deborah Rosati: To find your voice, to know that everyone comes from their own authentic self and you have to find your way that you can be effective around the boardroom table, whether you’re an executive or whether you’re a board member and communication is key. And so I always think of that finding your voice and being confident about that voice. And sometimes it’s going to work and sometimes it’s not. And looking for feedback and looking for being very observant from a body language and emotional intelligence around the board room. A lot can be said without being said, if that makes sense.
Gordon Sheppard: It totally makes sense.
Deborah Rosati: And using that emotional IQ to really read between the lines, read body language, read what other people are, maybe not saying but what they really mean. And I find sometimes in my particular case where I’ve seen a lot of interaction around the boardroom table and no one’s really listening. I find sometimes most effective way to create change or to influence change id either before the board meeting or after the board meeting.
Gordon Sheppard: So you really make sure there’s a before, during and after. What are some of the things that you recommending before to help make changes?
Deborah Rosati: In my case, if I’m chairing a committee, let’s say I’m chairing an audit committee, I would make sure that I’m having conversations with the CFO prior to the meeting, with the audit partners prior to the meeting so that when you get to the meeting there is alignment. So that would be an example of before.
And if there’s maybe a misunderstanding or an issue that you think might be complex, just really spending time and understanding it in advance and really trying to work with management to understand what, as a chair of that particular committee, what needs to be approved by the committee or by the board and really blocking and tackling and working in partnership with the management team as well as you drive forward to have decisions made and get things approved on the committee or the board agenda. So that would be an example.
Or if you know there’s a contentious issue, you know that there’s going to be different dynamics around the table, having conversations. So for instance, just had a budget meeting with one of my boards and I knew in advance I needed to have conversation with the CEO prior to the meeting just to give heads up on some of the issues or concerns I had. So I didn’t want to go into the meeting without having some heads up. And just really knowing where they can have those conversations and give critical feedback, but supportive feedback at the same time.
Gordon Sheppard: You just said the budget meeting part. I mean in your history, for the numbers game you probably couldn’t get someone better to lead a budget committee scenario than yourself in terms of your pedigree, but I’m going to suggest that there are moments in the board room and whether it’s male, female dynamics or those brassy dynamics where women are in there. What do you do when somebody challenges your credentials in a sense? Has that ever happened before and then what did you do about it?
Deborah Rosati: The challenge of my credentials might have been earlier in my career when I was CFO of a technology company and I was younger in my career and I was reporting into a board as the CFO and it didn’t have a whole lot of mentors, a lot of sponsors. I don’t know if they question my credentials because I was credentialed. I am a FCPA. I’ve been a CA 35 plus years. So I don’t think it was really the questioning of my credentials, it was maybe just information and learning along the way. And I might not have been exposed to the reporting expectations of what the audit committee would want. So I think understanding really getting the expectations up front so that if there was a disconnect or there was additional information, I always knew that if I got requested for information, I didn’t have that. I didn’t feel like I had to respond on the spot. I can say, “Great question, I can get back to you on that.” Because sometimes that’s a better answer than trying to respond to something you don’t have all the information for.
Gordon Sheppard: Well I love the practicality of that. So right now we know that someone can listen to this and walk away with that sort of confidence to say, “Hey, great question, let me get back to you on that.” And that’s the sort of the best way to expedite that. So I’m hearing that, if you want to be a strong leader in the boardroom, you need to be authentic. You need to be fearless. We talked about creating inclusivity because that’s more profitable ultimately for everybody along the way. And now we’ve just dug into that piece where if you’re going to be sort of running a committee or a meeting of any sort, there’s that before part when you’re actually being as thorough as you can before you get there. Now you’re in the meeting and let’s say you’re leading the meeting. What are your best tips for folks sort of at this level to run a great meeting?
Deborah Rosati: Well, if I look at board meetings, in particular committee meetings is you’ve got an agenda. Everyone’s reviewed the agenda and really managing the timeframes within that agenda, making sure that there’s open discussion, make sure that all voices from an inclusivity perspective are heard. So if you have one of your board members who doesn’t normally volunteer information, you may be able to go to that board member, be it Bob or Susan and say, “Bob, do you have anything further to add?” “Susan, you mentioned something over here. Did you want to bring it into the conversation here?” If you’re chairing a meeting, your goal is to facilitate conversation. Your goal is not to put your thoughts forward to stifle the conversation, but to really make it ongoing.
And at the end of the day, not everyone is going to agree on that healthy debate and healthy conversation. But your job is to facilitate those conversations and come to a conclusion. And sometimes in the meeting you may not have all the information and then you make a decision to say, “Listen, come back with further information. If the management team and we will deliberate on at a later date, we just don’t have enough information to make the decision today.”
Gordon Sheppard: Well and when you’re facilitating these productive conversations, what are some of the little twists of phrase that you do? Or do you sort of fold your arms and sit in silence? Or what are some of the tips that you have around that actual conversation facilitation?
Deborah Rosati: Being an active communicator, for me, sometimes I do have to kind of sit on my hands so that I’m not always participating. I try to be observant of others, respectful of others. But sometimes where, and I’ve heard women say that they may bring an idea forward and then someone else in the meeting will bring the same idea forward but because it’s the guy, they’ll hear that voice differently. And so my reinforcement to that, if that ever happens, I might say, “Thanks Bob. I just said that in the meeting, but let me clarify.” Right? I hear this from women a lot that their voice doesn’t get heard. And then I throw it back to them and say, “Well, what are you doing about it?” And if they don’t feel comfortable, if you don’t feel comfortable in the boardroom, you take it off side, you take it to the chair of the meeting and say, “Listen, I’m not sure if you’re aware that, but this seems to happen quite consistently. Can you help me work through that?”
So there are many different tests. You just have to find your way, your voice. I say that with great confidence today. Did I do that 30 years ago in my career, 20 years ago? No. I’m bold and brass now because I’ve learned and I continue to learn. I don’t have all the answers and I continue to learn. But I think building relationships and being really authentic with the individuals that you’re working with makes it gratifying and at the end of the day it boils down to trust. Right? And any other relationships or any communication that you have, there has to be that trust.
Gordon Sheppard: It’s so fun to talk to someone at your confidence level. Right? “Hey Bob, I just said that.” I mean, that is just, people are listening to this. They would just die a slow death. They can’t even imagine that they would actually bring that out. And I’ll take it back to sort of young you for so many of the people here that are listening to this episode except the piece that’s important is somehow to get that into action and really create the self-advocacy. And again, I can hear you saying before, during, after and investing in relationships and again demonstrating in it as many touch points as you can so that you can actually be able to have that voice at the right time in a given board meeting.
Deborah Rosati: Yeah, and it’s safe, because sometimes people don’t know how they’re communicating. Some people don’t realize they’re doing that. A case in point, I think there’s a big transition going from being an executive to being a board member. And for me, my early career, it was pointed out early on in a peer review that you do with your directors around the table, you’re evaluating performance and your peers provide comment. And one comment that came back to me early on was I was too empathetic with management. And you know what? Because that’s where I was comfortable. That’s where I’d been and I thought to myself that’s where I should be. And that really opened my eyes and how there’s the distinction between management’s role and a board’s role. A board’s role is oversight, management is day-to-day and there’s a concept nose in, fingers out and you really need to know that fine line.
Gordon Sheppard: Wow. So get in your lane is what I’m hearing from that. And this idea of a peer review, that’s powerful. Is this something that gets practiced? Is it a best practice that most of the boards that you’re on are doing?
Deborah Rosati: It is. So from a governance perspective, you should on an annual, if not biannual basis, so it is good governance to be doing performance reviews, director’s evaluation. So best case, good to do that. Best practice is where you have some element of a peer review and that has to be managed really diplomatically, as you can imagine. But I think the results and the best feedback come when you’re getting that peer-to-peer review.
Gordon Sheppard: This sounds like a real investment. I mean I work as a facilitator in the consulting work that I do and I facilitate all kinds of conversations. The innovation ones are fun, the hot conversations are hot and it’s what it is. But this peer review is super powerful. And I can imagine, again, this would be an opportunity for anybody sort of going into a leadership role on a board to get ready for that. I’m going to say is it the right amount of thick skin in that moment? Is that you kind of need to… How would you describe it?
Deborah Rosati: Absolutely. Well for me, I would take them back, but the context in which it was provided, I had an amazing chair that was very, provide the feedback. It was a safe place. It was conversation from the chair to myself and the feedback came through. So I think if you have an open mind and that you’re always going to have continuous improvements, then you’re open to it. And to me it was one of the best inputs that I’ve ever had in my sort of early part of my board career.
Gordon Sheppard: Wow, you can hear the super value in that in terms of then getting you to this cocky confidence point that you’re at now, to be able to sort of be brassy and be out there and leading people in this way. We could talk on and on. I mean there’s been so many very specific practical things that you’ve mentioned. Again and the pedigree is there with everything that you’re doing. But I have to sort of get into our last question here for the interview and it’s simply this one. What inspires you?
Deborah Rosati: Great question. I get inspired by empowering, elevating and energizing others. I guess by nature, I’m a very positive, take charge, opportunistic individual. And for me, if I can inspire or empower another woman to be thinking about other board journeys, that inspires me every day. If I can elevate other women, as you mentioned, we post our members’ board appointments. Last year we had 77 of our members that were appointed to boards and celebrating, celebrating successes. That’s the elevation piece. We think well, [inaudible] and celebrate others. But I think that inspires me when you can not promote and celebrate others.
Gordon Sheppard: Well, and I’d be looking for an example to express your enthusiasm. You don’t need to use a real name. You can if you want to, but who is someone that you’ve empowered and what was happening sort of before and after that happened?
Deborah Rosati: Well, I’ve had women that have come to my workshops. I do this, how to get yourself on a board and our next one is next week and we’re sold out, which is great. It’s Toronto. And I’ve had women come to the board and really they had a great professional career, but they needed to transition and what did that look like? What did their board resume and how did they go to market to position themselves for board opportunities? I’ve seen some of our members get on some very prominent boards because they were empowered. They had the board resume, they had the confidence and they had to go after it. It didn’t come to them. But when I say that journey and I see them, then love celebrating their success.
Gordon Sheppard: Wow. You must have fun getting up every morning.
Deborah Rosati: I absolutely do. And then I’m exhausted by the end of the day and I get up and do it again tomorrow.
Gordon Sheppard: There’s that little one. Well, I can feel sort of on this interview alone, I’m going to say 18.1 just went to 18.2% but I know you’re going to be sort of really putting a big dent in that over the next period of time with all of your enthusiasm. Listen, if people are listening right now and they want to get in touch with you and learn about all these sort of great workshops and your acumen and all the different things that you’re doing, what’s the best way to do that?
Deborah Rosati: They can go to womengetonboard.ca we. Have a firstname.lastname@example.org. They can go to me on LinkedIn, Deborah Rosati. You can link in with me. Happy to link back with them. So those are two ways that they can get in touch with me.
Gordon Sheppard: Deborah, I am really proud that you came on the show. Thank you so much for your time.
Deborah Rosati: Thank you, Gordon. Have a great day.
Gordon Sheppard: You know there was just so many things to learn from that interview. I hope you go back and listen to it a second time. The biggest thing that I’ll take away though is that diversity really benefits everybody. So if you’re running a company and you can’t look around that boardroom table and see kind of a cross mixture of the people that you serve ultimately on the customer end, I think you are doing yourself a disservice. And I hope you take really the message to heart here and start to get more women, more people of different diversity onto your board and make sure that you round that out so you can make absolutely the best decisions.
And if you’re looking for even more inspiration, then check out episode 93 on the Meeting Leadership Podcast. It’s called, Why Leaders Need Radical Conviction. And that’s with Eleanor Beaton and I can tell you it is a rock solid episode. It’s one of those ones because Eleanor is a coach who helps people really take it up to the next level, especially women leaders. You’re going to get a lot out of that one. And you can get that episode by going to meetingleadershipinc.com/93.
And then on episode 84, Karmen Masson, a rock solid business coach, talked to us about why you should stop being a know-it-all leader. And that really ties into a theme that we heard in the interview today about this idea of if you don’t know, ask some good questions and then get the answers. And you can listen to the episode with Carmen by going to meetingleadershipinc.com/84.
And because we also talked about the importance of listening during the interview, you might want to check out episode 88 on the podcast. It’s called, Meeting Leadership Exercises, The Repetition Technique For Active Listening. And it’s one of those episodes you can listen to, take out and put into action right away. And you can get that episode by going to meetingleadershipinc.com/88.
And I also want to remind you that this episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast is brought to you by the Meeting Leadership Academy. If you are looking for a really solid live training opportunity either to bring into a convention, maybe you’re going to bring that right into your company with your senior leadership team because you know you want to get a spark. You want to spend a half day with you and your team with a really qualified instructor to make sure that you’re taking your meetings up to the next level, you’re connecting them to your strategy, you’re becoming a better facilitator, you’re writing better agendas. You can do all of that by bringing that in and you can learn about it by going to meetingleadershipinc.com/academy.
And for everyone who is already a subscriber, thank you so much. And if you haven’t done it yet, make sure you take a moment to hit the subscribe button on your favorite podcast app. And as always, thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.
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I’m on top of the world now and living. And the good gets better, it keeps giving. Not even close to the end, it’s just beginning. Life is getting lighter while the days are getting brighter, yeah.
Links From This Episode
- Women Get On Board https://womengetonboard.ca/
- Deborah Rosati http://deborahrosati.ca/
- MLP 093: Why Leaders Need Radical Conviction with Eleanor Beaton – Part 1 https://meetingleadershipinc.com/93
- MLP 084: Why You Should Stop Being A Know-It-All Leader with Karmen Masson https://meetingleadershipinc.com/84
- MLP 088: Meeting Leadership Exercises – The Repetition Technique For Active Listening https://meetingleadershipinc.com/88
- Meeting Leadership Academy – https//meetingleadershipinc.com/academy
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