UPCLOSE with Valerie Davies

Women on boards

Valerie is an exceptional woman who spoke from the heart. She’s held 18 board positions in 22 years, including Cedar Woods Properties, Event Hospitality & Entertainment and Tourism Western Australia. What’s more, she’s established her own strategic communications agency. She’s a trail-blazer for women in leadership and she graciously gave her time to us at a 2016 Career Accelerator breakfast. She inspired everyone in the room.

Here are five of the key points she made

1. Add value in everything you do

I’ve met Valerie a few times and this is something that always comes up in our discussions. This is part of her DNA. In everything she does, she wants to add value. She is very clear in articulating her strengths and will only take on a role if there’s a clear match. This is especially important, she says, when considering board opportunities.

I agree. I’ve been approached by a number of women who are keen to explore board careers. I often pose back the question: what value would you bring to a board?

Now, I’ve seen firsthand how this question stumps people. When planning your board career, the very first thing you must know is what you will bring to the board: your strengths, expertise, transferable skills… who you are. Only then will you be able to start to plan your board career, targeting the ones you’re interested in.

2. Learn from other people

One of the things Valerie enjoys most is listening to other people. She uses this as a continued source to learn, grow and develop herself.

I think there is so much truth in this. There is an old saying: “Shall I tell you a secret of a true scholar? It is this: every man I meet is my master in some point and in that I learn from him.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ignore that this quote only talks about men (after all, it was written in the 19th century), but I absolutely think there is truth to it. People have such diverse and varied experiences. That’s what makes us all unique. We can use this and learn from each other.

3. Curiosity leads to success

Valerie talks about her insatiable thirst for knowledge. Her natural curiosity. Her interest in a variety of industries and topics. It’s one of the reasons her board portfolio reflects a wide range of industries from international mining, to entertainment and hospitality, to tourism, labour hire and healthcare.

As an ex-recruiter, I’m surprised at how often people put people in  boxes. Just because you operate in one industry doesn’t outcast you from exploring another. Ask yourself this, what are you curious about?  What interests you? Where can your experience add value? Can you imagine a world where we cross pollinate our experiences into different industry sectors and bring diversity of thought?

4. I’m an equal among all of you

Often the only woman in the boardroom, Valerie has found herself stereotyped as just the communications specialist. She shared with us how she often challenges her peers by reminding them, “I’m an equal among all of you. Not just a communications specialist.”

So true. To sit around the table, you need to be confident in your own ability and believe you have the right to be at the table. It’s one thing to know what you have done before but it’s another to know your potential.

5. Master the art of communications

Valerie’s built a communications consultancy business and works with a number of individuals and organisations to deliver communication strategies.

She says that mastering the art of communication means knowing the game, playing the game and winning the game. To do this you need to understand different communication styles, particularly the differences between male and female communication styles. However in the end, no matter who you deal with, it’s your ability to connect and influence.

I identified with a client I’d met earlier that week. She shared her frustration in dealing with her senior management team – mainly men, only one woman. Long story short, this senior woman had adopted a masculine approach in order to climb the corporate ladder. What she didn’t count on was how it made her feel… not great. We discovered she needed to be more authentic. So we worked on how to influence decision makers and communicate her opinions in a more authentic manner.

Libby Lyons, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency wrote: “Valerie Davies is an amazing woman. She is a great role model for us all”. And I couldn’t agree more. Valerie spoke from the heart and used her story to support and empower the next group of women entering the boardroom.

I truly believe when women come together to support each other, we do amazing things.