Profiling Women on Boards in the Pacific: Sharon Kupp-Tengdui
Vice President Papua New Guinea Institute of Directors
Sharon Kupp-Tengdui is a a lawyer by training and was previously employed as a Senior Lawyer and the Company Secretary for ANZ Papua New Guinea (PNG). Her role of company secretary was from 2017 to 2019 and during that time she was introduced to the PNG Institute of Directors (PNGID) where she currently serves as a director on the board. It’s a voluntary role and she started in that role in March 2017. Sharon is currently employed as the Head of Legal & Compliance for Westpac Bank PNG Ltd and kindly agreed to share her board experience.
1. Why do you think it’s important to have women represented on boards in the Pacific?
In a recent article by The Conversation it talked about how the push for having more women on boards has increased, and the article mentioned among other things that several European countries were introducing quotas for women on company boards. The article then went on to report that its research had shown that companies with diverse boards are more innovative, enjoy stronger community relations, have better equity and diversity policies and outcomes, pursue more environmentally sustainable practices and are better governed.
As a woman in the Pacific, innate in our nature, and then reinforced daily by all the women folk in our lives, is to put the need of the family before yourself, it’s to put the need of your husband and children before yourself, it’s to make it work with what you have, it’s to ensure relations with the in-laws are well maintained, it’s to consider the impact of your decisions on the family and the rest of the community. When you have one or more directors on the board who are females from the Pacific, then you stand to find a company that is innovative, has stronger community relations, better equity and diversity policies, pursues environmentally sustainable practices and is better governed.
Companies should be aspiring to have those sorts of outcomes, as well as good profit margins, and a way to achieving those outcomes has been proven to be diversity, which includes having women on boards.
2. Did you face any hurdles getting a board appointment?
My hurdle to getting on boards is the fact that I am not well known. Unfortunately, appointments onto boards in PNG are by association, so it is dependent on who you know. My current appointment onto the PNGID Board was because of the fact that I made myself know to one of the directors, who was then serving as the vice-president of the board, and so when they had a vacancy he recommended me for that position.
3. What do you foresee the hurdles to be in the future?
Appointment by association will continue to be a hurdle because there is no professional body to assess/rate/rank a director’s capabilities, consequently if someone can vouch for you and your abilities then you might get appointed. The problem with that is Pacific women will rarely parade themselves and/or their capabilities in front of those seeking out directors for their boards.
There is a lack of suitable training programs for corporate governance. At the moment you have the two days training that the PNGID does or you have the two-year program at the end of which you achieve a diploma. Both are good but neither is fit for purpose when you have rules and regulations relating to companies, roles and responsibilities of directors are continuously evolving.
On government agencies and state owned enterprise boards it will continue to be an appointment by relation. Usually family relation, tribal relation or another relationship tie that will get you on these boards.
4. What do you think needs to be done to ensure there are more women on boards in the future?
There needs to be a change in the thinking by the senior management and current board directors in terms of how they recruit members of their board. More conversation needs to be had on the positive impacts of diversity and more so gender balance on boards.
There is an increase in the number of women achieving senior management positions, achieving professional excellence well above their male counterparts but that does not translate when you look at the boardroom. How can women be championing the running of the organization, and in some cases make up the majority of high performers of that organization but not get a seat at the highest decision making level? Those are the types of conversations that need to be had.
5. What advice would you give to women wanting board positions?
Advice to a woman in PNG attempting to get onto a corporate board in PNG is to become a member of one of the associations that will push you into the spot light as an eligible candidate. One of those organizations is the PNG Institute of Directors. Become a member and do the directors training program. Follow that network and make yourself know to those that are already serving on boards because when there is a vacancy they will more than likely rely on another respected director’s recommendation of you than they would your CV. Having done the directors training is an added bonus that talks to you having had some sort of training for becoming a director.