The next generation of Board directors is ready

6 min read
Sep 27, 2022 11:26:46 AM

Introducing Sarah Barter

BoardPro works with a diverse group of governance professionals across Australia and New Zealand. These experts are dedicated to sharing their knowledge and experiences with the the BoardPro community so that anyone can learn how to apply the fundamentals of governance - for free!  

sarah barter

Today, we at BoardPro are excited to present to you Sarah Barter, the co-founder of Quality Care Coach. Quality Care Coach was established to p

rovide advice, consulting and coaching services to strengthen the delivery of quality, person-centred care in Australia. The company aims to provide a range of customised support from governance and compliance to consumer engagement and operational efficiency. Its mission is to enable people to live healthy, well lives in the comfort of their own community for as long as possible. To achieve this, sound governance, systems and processes are needed, as well as a supported workforce to deliver the care and services.
Sarah Barter herself has an impressive profile. She is passionate about enabling the delivery of quality, person-centred care to people from birth until death. Throughout the years, she has gathered more than 12 years of experience working in Australia's health and aged care sector and three years running her own business.

She is a non-executive Director on the Karitane Board, supporting families with young children, and was previously appointed director on the St Vincents’ Clinic Board. She is also newly appointed to the Sydney North Health Network Community Council. She is a Casual Academic at Western Sydney University and volunteers as a primary ethics teacher. Her varied experience has developed her insight into governance, policy, strategy, co-design, consumer engagement, and quality improvement as it relates to the care sector.

At BoardPro, we wanted to speak with Sarah to understand how younger Board directors and women integrated into a traditionally more senior, male-dominated table. Today, the issue of diversity at every level of an organisation, especially on Boards, is ubiquitous in the corporate world. For example, in the annual PwC director survey, 43% of directors who responded to the study stated that they believed there needed to be equality or near-equality (41-50% of women).

Sarah’s professional experience, wisdom and passion for helping others, as well as her community, made her the perfect person to answer our burning questions in this space.

Questions for Sarah

Q: What is the most significant change you have seen with younger directors coming into Boards?

My experience of working with younger directors is a willingness to ask questions; contribute ideas, experiences and perspectives; and generally dive into the detail to be satisfied with the information provided and the decision to be made. In modern Boards, the line between what is management vs Board responsibility is becoming increasingly blurred. Recent Royal Commission reports in Australia have highlighted the need for Board directors to ask questions of management, receive the right information to make complex decisions, and adequately oversee risk.

This requires a deeper level of engagement and curiosity by Board directors than perhaps we’ve seen in the past. My experience is that younger Board directors are ready for that and willing to take responsibility for advancing the company, particularly when they are committed to the organisation’s purpose and where there is a healthy culture characterised by strong relationships with the Executive team.

Q: What are young Board directors revolutionising?

I believe younger Board directors are revolutionising a focus on the customer/ consumer and their experience, stakeholder engagement, and ESG (environmental, social and governance). Having lived through multiple global crises, including September 11, the Global Financial Crisis, geopolitical unrest, the pandemic and the ongoing impacts of climate change, younger directors are acutely aware of the interconnectedness of the world and the responsibility of people and companies to take action to create a better future.

Younger directors know a company's best chance of success in a competitive world characterised by disruption and digital innovation is staying close to your customers and community to anticipate their needs and meet their expectations. By meaningfully engaging with customers and stakeholders and taking a broad view of the company's impact, a Board is best placed to make tough strategic decisions.

Q: What is the determining factor for a Board to choose someone younger rather than someone who has been in the industry for a long time with a lot of experience?

For many companies, choosing a younger director provides a succession plan and allows the Board to represent a broader section of the community or its customer base. Aspiring to diversity on Boards is not just good for governance and ensuring Boards avoid the dangers of groupthink, it also makes business sense. The Board stays closer to the lived reality of its customers and workforce, enabling it to respond and adapt more quickly to changing needs and expectations.

Younger directors often have concurrent operational experience with knowledge and visibility of strategies, systems and processes that make businesses more efficient and effective which can be applied to support Board discussions and decisions.

Q: What is the biggest challenge that is being faced in creating more diversity within a Board?


The biggest challenge in fostering Board diversity is challenging accepted practices and the status quo. In an increasingly regulated and pressurised operating environment, many Boards are risk averse and lack the confidence to try something new. Boards are conflicted by the need to keep the Board a manageable size and manage its focus while also ensuring adequate skill mix and experience to make complex decisions. There’s a tendency to appoint directors as the “lawyer,” “accountant,” “marketing professional,” “digital expert,” “clinician,” etc., rather than looking innovatively and expansively at the overall characteristics and qualities needed on the Board. While some specialised knowledge on Boards is necessary, it is not sufficient for a well-functioning Board.

Each Board director is collectively responsible for all Board decisions. There’s a risk when we only recruit for skills and experience, that directors do not interfere in decisions ‘outside their area’. Recruiting diverse Board directors who are motivated by the organisation’s purpose can contribute to a culture in which all directors actively participate in discussions and deliberations.

Q: What is the best way for a Board to start encouraging diversity within the team?

Encouraging and enabling diversity on Boards requires an open-minded recruitment process and flexible Board operations. Younger people may experience ‘imposter syndrome’ and struggle to believe they have the skills or experience to contribute effectively to a Board. Boards should proactively reach out to their stakeholder base to promote Board vacancies and ensure the advertisement encourages diverse applicants, including, e.g. younger people, women, First Nations Peoples and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Key selection criteria should be an understanding of and commitment to the mission and values of the business, as well as other specific skills and experience identified by the Board.

Supporting the contributions of diverse Board directors requires flexibility in conducting Board meetings and other processes. Hybrid face-to-face and online meetings at different times of the day are likely to give diverse Board directors the best chance of attending and contributing. Attention to creating Board packs that distil and present relevant information for informed decision-making, e.g. via briefing papers, is particularly important - quality over quantity! If Board directors are unpaid, the organisation should make a point to reimburse any reasonable expenses incurred to attend meetings and events. They should also offer paid professional development opportunities to support diverse Board directors to build their knowledge and skills in governance.

Q: Why is BoardPro’s software such a handy tool for Boards and organisations?

"BoardPro’s purpose-built, cloud based software provides easy access to information for directors to read and review, particularly on the run which may be important for diverse directors, while also protecting confidentiality. Many Boards struggle with the task of crafting a Board agenda and papers that deliver the information needed to make informed decisions, while also managing time and discussion. The Board must also be cognisant of using management and Executive time effectively in the business rather than just on Board reporting. Access to best practice templates and guidance for the development of board papers is efficient and provides confidence and assurance to the Board that it is complying with its responsibilities and addressing all key issues".

If you are interested in learning more about Quality Care Coach, check out the company’s website here. Learn more and connect with Sarah Barter here.

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