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IDEAS. STRATEGY. TACTICS. INNOVATION. INSPIRATION.

Dambisa Moyo On How To Join A Board And Make An Impact



Dambisa Moyo is a Zambian-born global economist and best-selling author, known for her analysis of macroeconomics and global affairs. A preeminent thinker respected for her unique perspectives, she has served on several boards including currently, Chevron Corporation, Condé Nast and the 3M Company. In her latest book “How Boards Work: And How They Can Work Better in a Chaotic World” , she provides thoughtful analysis and detailed insight on board structures, making it a must-have for anyone looking to join a board or who is already on one and wanting to make a greater impact. In this interview, she shares why diversity in the boardroom is important and how feedback can propel your career forward.


You had a very successful career at Goldman Sachs, have written several best-selling books and serve on multiple boards. What is the mindset or approach to your work that you'd say has contributed most to your career progression?


I think it's really important to be in an environment where people feel like they can give you critical feedback. But then, you have to excel, you have to be the best at whatever you choose to be. And you have to know that hard work is just inescapable.


We are in an era where people feel reluctant to give feedback. It is quite dangerous in that they worry women are going to cry, or you know, a black person's going to sue. So they don't give critical feedback. Because of that, the only way to know you're not succeeding is by not getting promoted, or not getting an increase in compensation.


We're not owed feedback, so we have to make other people feel comfortable enough to give us their honest assessments. I think it's important to really ask people for feedback and to be willing to take it. Even if it is very, very hard to swallow.


You got your first board position, very young, at the age of 39. Most board directors are around 65. How did you get your start?


I have a new book out all about corporate boards, and talk specifically, not only about how I ended up on boards, but what exactly the job of the board is. What is the mandate of the board? I spent a good three to four years trying to get on boards before I landed my first one. Something I find frustrating is that there's a sense out there that because one is a black woman we will automatically get on a board. No, it is not automatic. It wasn't then, and it isn’t now.


I wasn’t very fortunate in many respects because initially, nobody was telling me why they didn't want me on the board. I wasn't even getting interviewed until slowly, people started to give me feedback. They said things like, "Hey, listen. Your problem is you have a great resume, but you don't have operational experience, you haven't run a group of 10,000 people or you don't have real P&L experience.”


We talk often about the value and importance of having diverse boards. As someone now on the inside of those structures, can you explain why it's so critical that we have boards that are representative of the population?


I mean, for me, it's a no-brainer. Because, you know, as a black person, I'm part of a community. So I understand the Zeitgeist and the issues that perhaps a group of 12 white men who all have the same backgrounds and similar information will probably not see nor understand. I recently joined the board of Conde Nast and they have a portfolio of magazines around the world - it's very disaggregated. At some level, being able to talk in the boardroom about what's going on in popular culture with Jay Z and Beyonce or what being called a Karen means is important to how we think about our media footprint. If I wasn't there, it's quite likely that many of my board colleagues wouldn't be familiar with or aware of that.

Nobody is sending you an engraved invitation. If you want something you have to package yourself, you have to work hard, and you have to make sure you're ticking the boxes for what those roles require.


The majority of companies still have very little diversity on their boards, or in the upper levels of their organizations, so some countries and states have had to take more drastic measures in the form of quotas. What is your feeling about quotas as a way to drive that diversity?


I absolutely hate the fact that we even have to have a world where there's a discussion around quotas. That being said, they're kind of a necessary evil. I mean, we&#x