Having an impact as an independent director

Gerry Brown’s new book makes a passionate case for greater diversity among independent directors.


Janie Frampton has been passionate about sports for a young age. She became a football referee and eventually created a women’s league and battled against bias against women getting more senior roles in the game. Eventually she became a regional manager at the Football Association and then Head of Referee Development, being hired as a consultant on the World Cup, until she was abruptly sacked in 2012. It turned out that she was the victim of a colleague who hacked her emails and misused her data, resulting in Janie taking the FA to an employment tribunal.

Janie didn’t give up. She started her own business, Sports Officials Consultancy and became an independent director on the board of Sports Officials UK, which supports the educational development of sports officials. She also became a patron of the Muslim Women’s Network and is a firm believer in the wider impact of sport, particularly with regard to inclusion.

In 2016 she joined the Rugby Football League to chair its Match Officials Standards panel. Janie [pictured], now Executive Chair and Head of International Relations at the International Socca Federation, says: “In my experience of all-male boards, there is an arrogance about them. The attitude is that they can weather any storm. In time, whatever it is, it will all blow over. There is no attempt to resolve it and that often doesn’t work out so well.”

Janie’s case study is featured in a new book on becoming an independent director [ID] – also known as a non-executive director or a trustee. The book, Making a difference, by Gerry Brown, chair of Novaquest Capital Management and family consultancy business GBrown Associates Led.

Brown says becoming an ID is the best way to affect change from within an organisation. He is keen to increase the diversity of IDs and the book encourages those with the right skills who, for instance, may have lost their jobs during the pandemic or been furloughed to take a role in shaping the strategic direction of businesses and other organisations.

Brown says being an ID is a good way to reconnect with the world of work, to build confidence and have an impact on the community. He argues that now is a good time to become an ID because employers are more open than in the past to volunteering and realise the need to make a positive social impact, particularly as we build back after Covid. They also understand, he says, that encouraging their employees to volunteer increases employee engagement as well as the range of skills they can draw on. He would like to see more employers offering paid days off for volunteering and actively encouraging employees to give back.

The book also calls on boards to cast their nets wider and think laterally about who they take on as directors, to focus more on the skills and experience people bring than on them having a previous track record as a director.

Skills and experience

Brown outlines the skills needed to be an ID as well as the difference they can make in tackling areas ranging from corruption, executive pay abuse and sexual harassment – and he doesn’t skirt over the time commitment involved, more so these days because IDs are expected to play a much more hands-on role, particularly with legal changes likely to come in making directors liable for the accuracy of their financial statements. In addition to responsibilities such as succession planning and setting rewards and remuneration, Brown drills down into specific committees that oversee everything from finances to nominations of executives and other IDs.

There is practical advice on how to approach getting an ID role, from what to write on your cv and using your networks to informal routes in via other volunteer roles and courses.

The book also covers advice for first-time IDs about the different types of boards, the interview process, troubleshooting and developing the ID role.

It ends with a clarion call to seize the opportunity that the post-Covid world offers to transform the way organisations are run and he says this will only happen if the organisations make diversity an active part of their recruitment strategy at all levels, including the boardroom, and people from all walks of life step forward as IDs. Brown writes: “While there is a finite number of corporate ID roles, there are enormous numbers of charity, social and voluntary boardroom positions on offer. Similarly, there are numerous pressure groups that are crying out for the help of qualified, talented people. Many are really struggling to make an impact and your involvement could transform their outlook.”

He ends: “If you want to make a difference, the first step is to commit to becoming an ID.”

*Making a difference: Leadership, change and giving back the independent director way by Gerry Brown is published by De Gruyter, price £29.99.

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