Sonja Price reveals what she enjoys most about her role as Company Directors’ board diversity manager.
Company Director (CD): What does your role entail?
Sonja Price (SP): As the board diversity manager at the Australian Institute of Company Directors, I am responsible for our board diversity initiatives and programs, including managing the Chairmen’s Mentoring Program and Board Diversity Scholarships.
My role also involves promoting the value of board diversity within the director community and identifying opportunities for women to develop their directorship careers.
CD: What are the major challenges in improving board diversity?
SP: Firstly, we have made a great improvement in the number of women represented on boards in recent years. Admittedly, we came from a very low base.
As at 1 April 2014, the percentage of women on ASX 200 boards was 18 per cent. Women have comprised 29 per cent of new appointments to ASX 200 boards in 2014. And, so far this year, 15 women have been appointed to ASX 200 boards.
However, looking forward the major challenge will be to improve the representation of women in senior executive levels and to increase female participation rates overall.
I also believe we need to increase the representation of women on boards outside our top listed companies. There are still many smaller listed and private company boards that rely entirely on their networks to identify new directors. More often than not these networks are male-dominated.
CD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
SP: In the past four years, I have meet some incredibly talented female directors, all of whom have achieved successful executive careers.
I really enjoy assisting these women to develop their board careers, whether that is through introducing them to potential board opportunities or matching them with a great mentor who has been able to provide them with invaluable advice. It’s satisfying when we get feedback that our work is really making a difference.
CD: What do you most like about working with the directors of Australia?
SP: I am amazed at how generous many are with their time.
The chairmen who volunteer as mentors in our Chairmen’s Mentoring Program are so often willing to contribute to other events or forums and champion the value of board diversity in the wider business community.
Many of these directors also see the importance of giving back in the community by volunteering as directors for not-for-profit boards, which are no less demanding or valuable than their corporate directorships.
CD: What was your background before joining Company Directors?
SP: Prior to joining Company Directors, I was in corporate human resources as HR director at Rothschild Australia and HR director at Ernst & Young.
During this time, I also had three children and subsequently took a career break for several years.
Unfortunately, like many women, I found the transition back into corporate life somewhat frustrating and soon realised how important a good network was in re-establishing my career.
At Company Directors, I am really pleased to be a position to highlight the barriers faced by women in the workplace and also hope the value of diversity is not only recognised at board level, but integrated into all aspects of our community, starting at school level.
CD: What is the biggest lesson you’ve ever learnt in life?
SP: The biggest career lesson I have learnt is stay connected – if you plan to take an extended career break (for women this is often related to parenting) – it is really important to remain connected to your professional network.
I would highly recommend that you remain part of a professional body, attend networking events and continue your education.
The biggest personal lesson I have learnt is to enjoy your kids when they are young – they grow up so fast!
CD: What do you do in your spare time?
SP: With three active teenage kids I seem to spend a great deal of time ferrying them to various sporting and school activities. But I also try to keep active by going to the gym, playing tennis and walking our 12-month old Bernese Mountain dog.
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