“More women on boards makes sound business sense” Esther Teeken, Chief Operating Officer, IoD
Esther Teeken was born in the Netherlands and has travelled and lived overseas throughout her career. She became Chief Operating Officer of the IoD in 2019 and joined the board in 2021. She is the driving force behind the IoD’s commitment to ensure more women achieve board director roles.
At 24, I worked in Mexico City for Unilever as part of my university internship. It was exciting and risky; I had a bodyguard as kidnapping was an issue for women. Despite the potential dangers, my family supported me and I loved it. This experience set me up for a career living and working overseas.
From university I joined Sara Lee (now Hillshire Brands) as a junior accountant where I had an inspiring line manager. She encouraged me to be honest in my approach and because I was often challenging people about budgets, I learned to deal with difficult conversations. She was tough but always constructive and is still a role model to me.
After eight years in consumer goods, I was headhunted for a transport company, but I found the lack of diversity frustrating and the attitudes in this sector didn’t align with my own. I quickly moved on to international accountancy firm Grant Thornton where, over ten years, I worked my way up to global finance officer.
At Grant Thornton, I jumped at the chance to set up a new research facility from scratch in India. I always welcome new opportunities and I really enjoyed this project. I never felt threatened while travelling in India on my own and I am still in touch with many of the people involved. This venture began with five people and ended up as a team of 60.
From Grant Thornton I spent a short time working in the Isle of Man in equities before I was approached by the director general of the IoD, Jon Geldart. Like many organisations, the IoD is undergoing a period of change, and attracting a more diverse membership is part of that.
Right now, women are under-represented in the IoD membership, and on boards. Research shows that businesses which have more diverse boards, which reflect societies and communities, make better decisions and become more profitable. So it is sound business sense.
On the whole, women are less likely to invest in themselves and underestimate the value of further training. Men seem more willing to spend money on membership fees and training, which might account for the inequalities we see in workforces. Our own research suggests that it is particularly important for women to feel they have the skills and expertise required for a seat on the board. Training, like our Chartered Director qualification, can address that.
Awareness of opportunities is also an issue for women. Our global partnership with Women On Boards is designed to show that women can access director roles, particularly as NEDs or charity trustees. Our national, regional and local networks are also a fun way to make connections, build self-esteem and develop influence.
If you are a woman and your goal is to become a board director, my advice would be:
- Get connected virtually and in person – with communities, networks and LinkedIn groups as well as people who are on boards already. And be brave about using these connections.
- Make the most of free resources – listen to TED Talks, check out free online tools and training and access advertised opportunities.
- Invest in yourself – look for training which is recognised by the people you want to impress and allow yourself to believe you’re worth it.
- Maximise virtual and flexible working – take the opportunity to build your career around the rest of your life in a way which suits you.
- Be authentic – be true to yourself every step of your career. Make your voice heard and your opinions clear.