Empowering Black Board Directors Through Governance Education

April 18, 2024 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Izabela Shubair, DeGroote Contributor

Yvonne Ruke Akpoveta, a seasoned change management strategist and advisor, has helped public and private sector organizations for more than two decades. Her transformative work spans renowned entities like RBC, TD, Loblaws, and Deloitte. Shola Agboola, a public policy expert and government relations strategist, has left a mark on the political landscape. Not only is he the Conservative Candidate of Record for St. Boniface-St. Vital in Manitoba, but Agboola also made history. In 2021, he became the first Black Canadian to represent Manitoba on the Conservative party’s Federal Leadership Committee.

Despite their distinct professional backgrounds, Akpoveta and Agboola share a common thread. Both have lent their expertise to various boards. Both are fellows at the John Ware Institute (JWI), a Canadian non-profit dedicated to advancing BIPOC board directors. They both also recently benefited from a unique partnership between The Directors College (TDC) and JWI, which selected TDC to provide governance education training to its fellows.

The collaboration exemplifies how governance education can empower Black and BIPOC board directors.

“Governance education cultivates a culture of openness, equity, and fairness,” says Agboola, who completed the Chartered Director program.

“Empowered with governance knowledge, directors are better equipped to identify and rectify systemic biases, implement inclusive policies and practices, and advocate for diverse perspectives within the boardroom. This is a win-win situation that benefits both the organization and the underrepresented community, leading to more equitable outcomes, elevating organizational performance, and fostering a more inclusive society.”


The Role of Formal Governance Education in Advancing EDI

Akpoveta, who decided to attend the Chartered Director program to formalize her previous board experience, agrees that governance education and TDC play an essential role in advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).

For her, one reason stands out in particular. Such programs, she says, create an opportunity to increase representation, which continues to be lacking on boards in Canada. Akpoveta says that because board positions are often filled through referrals, providing a range of people access to formal education can expand referral networks and diversify boards.

“A woman likely knows another qualified woman,” she says. “If there are BIPOC or Black people on boards, it creates more opportunities for them to recommend qualified people in their circles. People with accessibility issues or other minority groups will also know more qualified people within those circles. Representation can go very far with the types of services and products made available, and it drives inclusion in matters that affect various groups represented.”

Agboola says that equipping Black and BIPOC community members with the education and skills to participate in corporate boardrooms has the potential to inspire entire BIPOC communities to actively engage in addressing issues facing those demographics in various sectors, including health, business, and entrepreneurship.

“I’ve already put into practice the lessons from the program,” he shares. “This includes advocating for increased diversity and inclusion within boardrooms and at the decision-making table. I also believe that without the knowledge offered by programs like The Directors College, many organizations might overlook the deliberate and intentional promotion of diversity and inclusion on their board, inadvertently excluding individuals like myself.”


The Benefits of TDC 

While Agboola and Akpoveta completed the Chartered Director program together, alongside other John Ware fellows, they benefitted in distinct ways. Akpoveta says the program helped bolster her confidence by allowing her to better understand the role of a board versus that of management. This comprehension has allowed her to be a more strategic board member.

“When you’re working with people who have been on boards for a long time, they may take an action that you differ on, and it’s easy to question whether you’re on the right path,” Akpoveta says. “So, going through TDC gave me the confidence to say, ‘I’m doing this right.’ Also, understanding my role as a board member and the role of management has helped me navigate how to build trust and a better working relationship.”

For Agboola, the program was an opportunity to gain skills through practical application and engage in enriching discussions with his fellow participants, which enabled him to explore current governance issues from new perspectives.

“The most important skill I gained from the Chartered Director program is the ability to critically analyze complex situations, make informed decisions, and effectively communicate with stakeholders while upholding ethical principles and best practices in governance,” he says.

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