Simon Fanshawe OBE, Partner, Diversity by Design

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Moon Consulting is delighted to welcome Simon Fanshawe OBE, partner at Diversity by Design, to our regular series of Board Interviews. In this article Simon explains why diversifying your Board will increase your success.

Simon is an experienced and hugely successful non-exec and Chair, having held several high-profile positions on several Boards such as the Museum of London, Housing & Care 21, and the University of Sussex. He is also a well-known television presenter, appearing regularly on many radio and TV shows. Along with his business partner, Roy Hutchins, Simon co-founded Diversity by Design; a business aiming to provide a thought-leading and original approach to action on diversity and the changes needed to achieve it.

Simon has a wealth of experience in diversity and equality spanning back to 1987 when he co-founded Stonewall. Amongst his many achievements, Stonewall, which was established to campaign to transform the face of gay rights, proved to be one of the most successful campaign groups of the 20th century.

Simon’s Board level experience and knowledge is highly sought after. In 2000 Simon was instrumental in the transformation of Brighton from a declining seaside town into one of the UK’s creative capitals, leading the team as Chair of the successful City BID. In 2013 Simon was awarded an OBE for his services to Higher Education.

We begin our interview by asking Simon what he thinks makes a good Board. Simon explains that successful Boards are a combination of personal experience and business knowledge; “Boards need to simulate an environment where members are valued for their individual differences – valuing difference is fundamental in all walks of life.”

“Ultimately, Boards need to create a culture where it’s safe to challenge established thinking in a collegiate way, and the most effective way of doing this is by valuing and deploying a combination personal experience and business expertise from across a broad range of industries and sectors”. Simon continues “The key to a successful Board is to really understand the challenges and opportunities that the company is facing, and value how each other’s differences will help the Board to come to the best decision”.

Simon likens his experience working on a diverse Board to that of a sports team, commenting “Each member is brilliantly different in identity and experience, but when they come together they form a team that complement each other perfectly”.

Having discussed what makes a Board successful, we ask Simon what he feels most  contributes to the failure of a Board; “It’s a combination of things, as sometimes the pros can be cons and vice versa; for example, there is a well-known Bank whose Board has little experience in the banking industry which of course could be viewed negatively. However,  on the flipside having experience from different industry sectors no doubt helps this Board look at their challenges from a different perspective. Once again it’s the combination of experience and expertise that adds long term value to realising the company’s strategic goals and purpose.”

We were interested to hear more about Simon’s experience in identifying the right talent to diversify the Boards that he Chairs. “When building a Board, be specific about what challenges the business is facing over the next period” he says, adding that “the aim of bringing a new Board member is to enrich the discussions further whilst expanding networks and reach”.

Simon continues “to work out what you need, don’t just consider technical or academic qualifications but it’s vital also to value, and recruit for, life experience, perspective, different identities, and so forth. That leads to challenging collaboration, which is what a Board needs. Real rigour in Boards that produce long term value comes from this contribution of skill and backgrounds and life experiences.”

An interesting point that Simon raises is the benefit of not overly relying on traditional thinking, “you will see the benefits immediately” he says. “It’s hard to convince traditionalists that it’s what you’ve learnt in life that counts, rather than just traditional business skills and qualifications. Often more traditional thinking doesn’t see the value of that contribution”.

We wanted to know more about how Simon locates the talent he needs; Simon said “it’s always hard to find candidates, but that’s largely down to where you look in relation to the skillset you need.”

“A great example of a successful diversification from Board-level down would be a prominent mining company who wanted to improve gender equality to parity as 75% of people who work in mining are  over the age of 50. Not only does this produce a talent pipeline challenge, but also mining is being disrupted hugely by technology. So they realise that by making their company more attractive to women, they would increase their pipeline and give them access to a wider mix of skills.”

As a final thought, Simon affirms “diversity is not a tick box – it’s a way you do things. It’s an approach to talent, and to reap the dividends from diversity requires significant change in approach, processes and the combinations of experiences and skills that you value on a Board”.