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Many years ago, a respected colleague of mine gave me some challenging advice. “As an Indigenous woman, if you want to be a part of real change, you’ve got to use your voice. Get on boards and committees, show up, say what you’ll do and do what you say.”

I took this advice to heart.

It took years to find open doors, using a trusted network and building from my own growing professional merits, I started getting involved. Often for small committees or non-profits, always as a volunteer, I started to learn the ropes. I quickly came to see that my voice and unique perspectives would only be effective if I understood what it means to be a board member and how that role impacts an organization.

Getting to the table is important. No question.

Now in my third term as a director of a Crown Corporation, I know that I have an opportunity to provide an Indigenous voice in a meaningful way. We have finally arrived at a time where diversity is acknowledged as valuable, and slowly but surely, we are seeing that recognition impacting the composition of the boardroom. But, sitting in the seat isn’t enough. It’s what you do in that seat that really counts.

I continue to challenge myself by deepening my knowledge and understanding.

Education and training are key to supporting my effectiveness in my role as a director. Last weekend I graduated from the Directors Education Program (ICD.D)  offered by the Institute of Corporate Directors, University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan, Levene Graduate School of Business and the University of Regina. It’s a mouthful to rattle off the names of all the institutions contributing to the program, but it speaks to the commitment being shown by credible learning institutions in raising the bar of governance and oversight in Canada. I took away loads of value from the intense programming, and learned even more from the lives and experiences shared by my fellow students.

Economic strain, rapid technological advancements, environmental concerns, racism, sexism, inequality, social responsibility – the complexity of navigating the corporate dynamic in the shadow of these often gut-churning challenges can be overwhelming.  The impact these topics have on long term sustainability for corporations force a, sometimes uncomfortable, shift in perspectives.

As an Indigenous woman, I know I offer valuable insights that challenge status quo thinking. By gaining a deep understanding of governance through professional development, I am better equipped to lead conversations and give direction that is relevant, impactful and appropriate.

It’s not enough to just fill a seat.

There is an individual responsibility to be aware of how you add value. Do you have the knowledge and skills to provide direction, tackle issues and effect change? There is a strategic responsibility to have informed directors at the helm of organizations. Does your board’s skills matrix support the long term, sustainable, differentiated, competitive advantage of the organization?

Getting to the table only gets us so far. Raising the bar is good for everyone. I’m setting mine high.