Profiling Women on Boards in the Pacific: Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu
Brenda is the former Attorney General of Somoa and the longest serving office holder to date, having completed three terms. She is now a Partner of Latu Lawyers and also undertakes legal consultancy work in the Pacific region.
Brenda's current directors roles are Habitat for Humanity Limited (NZ), International Centre for Democratic Partnerships Limited (Australia) and Commonwealth Study Conferences (Australia). Her previous most significant directors roles include: Inaugural Chair of the Samoa National Health Services (2007 – 2009), Director/Alternate Chair of Polynesian Blue Limited later Virgin Samoa Limited (2005 – 2012) –a joint venture between Virgin Australia and Govt of Samoa and Aggie Greys Hotel, Director Pacific Island AIDS Trust NZ (1989 -1996) – a NGO advocating for greater awareness about HIV and AIDS and the needs of Pacific communities in NZ , Director Samoa National Provident Fund (1997-2006) Ex Officio as Attorney General.
Brenda was bestowed the chiefly title of Taulapapa by her family in 2014, which is from the village of Fogapoa, Safotulafai District, Savai’i.
Why do you think it’s important to have women represented on boards in the Pacific?
Boards of Directors govern the use and application of resources in any society, and so I believe it is fundamental that they reflect the community in which they operate, in their membership, as well as in the manner in which they conduct their meetings and business, by acknowledging the views of a broad group of their own citizens, which are represented by women around the board table.
Women directors in the Pacific also bring aspects of their culture and environment with them into the boardroom which is directly relevant to the operational issues which the boards must address about whether what they provide is relevant and appropriate for the communities they serve.
Did you face any hurdles getting a board appointment?
I believe that being afforded the opportunity to be appointed is often the greatest hurdle, when qualified women are often determined to be ‘too busy’ by existing Board members to be able to properly take up appointments which reflects their prejudices rather than women’s capacity for multitasking and hard work. This behaviour is an unseen barrier to Directors appointments. Also there is a demonstrated lack of confidence amongst women that they can perform at Board level yet if they examine their experience in a critical light, they have undertaken all the tasks which directors undertake and are responsible for, just in a different context.
What do you foresee the hurdles to be in the future?
Unless and until the pool of women prepared to take part and be appointed to Boards increases in number, then the few will continue to represent the many, and the wealth of experience and wisdom which should be part of all Board rooms will continue to be lacking. Supporting the appointment of more women directors and greater diversity of background on boards should be a matter of social equity and should be an issue which all Boards should embed in their organisations to create the opportunities needed.
What do you think needs to be done to ensure there are more women on boards in the future?
There is not enough information available about the roles of directors, and the fact that many many women have the skills needed to be an effective director, yet do not know or are not confident about their ability to perform the role. The need for experienced women Board directors to share their knowledge and experiences with their colleagues, and to mentor younger and less experienced directors, is a pathway to creating confidence that women can contribute to any Board and to the management of any organisation.
What advice would you give to women wanting board positions?
To be an effective director you need to be informed, inquisitive, deliberative, ethical and prepared to offer and sometimes advocate for your point of view during Board meetings. This means that in preparing to apply or make your interest in a Board of an organisation known, you need to understand the business, appreciate the operating environment and identify the potential risks to the business or endeavour, and identify areas where your input would bring value to the organization.