Director Of The Year, Lel Smits, Shares Her Top Tips On Why It’s A Good Idea To Join Boards

Pamela Connellan
on 21 November 2022

Starting out as a Wall Street finance journalist and working her way to the director of her own company, Lel Smits has added another string to her bow after winning ‘Director of The Year’ at the Momentum Media Women in Finance Awards this month.

Lel took up her first directorship with the Australian Shareholders’ Association 18 months ago and she’s been working hard for this not for profit during that time. The finance industry is certainly not known for its equal representation of women in top level positions and Lel has been hailed for her commitment to inclusion as she’s worked towards advancing the financial literacy and economic advancement of women.

One of Lel’s key achievements has been the creation and hosting of Australia’s first millennial and Gen Z investment conference championing diversity, held last year.  

Speaking to over 700 finance professionals attending the Women in Finance Awards, Lel said: “Persistence, persistence, persistence. Life is full of roadblocks, challenges and failures – but the person who persists is the person who conquers and succeeds.”

Lel Smits has some Top Tips for women who want to get ahead with investment.

There’s no doubt Lel has embraced persistence – especially when faced with the stark reality of female representation in Australia’s finance sector. She’s well placed to face the battle with her her full range of experience, having worked with hundreds of ASX-listed executives and boards.  

Lel said: “A board of directors has a lot of power to govern and grow an organisation, and importantly to lead positive growth and change. Given the inequality that exists for women in finance I believe it is imperative boards embrace diversity at all levels and all women are encouraged to step into leadership positions.”
Women’s representation “Going nowhere fast”

“The progress of women into the most senior leadership roles in the nation’s top companies has been negligible,” said Lel, quoting the Chief Executive Women (CEW) Senior Executive Census 2022. Now in its sixth year the executive census charts the representation of women in senior leadership teams in Australia’s top 300 ASX-listed companies.

Lel has been reporting on and advising publicly listed companies for more than a decade and says from experience, the gender inequality outside of the top 300 is even more dramatic.

“From the moment I started working in finance I was aware that I was in the minority gender. Big improvements have been made to raise awareness and advocacy for diversity, but much more still needs to be done at all levels of representation,” she said.

CEW reports, “Representation has actually gone backwards. At the current rate, it will take 100 years to achieve gender balance in CEO roles.”

You can see from this chart the proportion of female directorships on ASX 200 boards in Australia up until Nov 2021 was at only 34.2%.

From a board perspective, the Australian Institute of Company Directors reports the proportion of women on boards has been steadily rising and reached 34.2% for the top 200 companies at the end of last year. There are however still many boards outside of the top 200 without a single woman on the board.  

“In this economic environment, it is vital that we enable women’s participation and leadership, one of Australia’s most available resources. We are calling for business to take purposeful, immediate action and for investors to demand gender balanced leadership teams at the companies they invest in”, Chief Executive Women President Sam Mostyn AO said recently.

Making moves from Wall Street to Women on Boards

Described as a “truth-seeking missile”, it’s no wonder Lel’s foundations in finance journalism led her to advising companies from the outside, and now organisations from within.

As part of her role as an Ambassador for Women on Boards Lel speaks to women about how they can grow professionally, position themselves to get on a board and make a meaningful contribution.

“Boards are elected to steer their company or community group towards its mission, oversee corporate compliance and management accountability and lead strategic planning. If leadership is important to you, find an area you are interested in and devote yourself to the cause,” Lel said.

Financial literacy, inclusion and empowerment are Lel’s missions, combined through her professional and not-for-profit passions. An ‘accidental finance journalist and entrepreneur’ learnt on the job and is now teaching others how to access independent financial education.

“I love promoting Women on Boards and advocating for inclusion on boards as the facts speak for themselves, more diverse boards can lead to more effective risk management, stakeholder alignment and higher financial returns,” she adds.

Lel believes all women should believe they can secure a board role if they work hard and here she highlights why considering a board role could be good for your career:

1. Point of difference
A directorship offers a point of difference when applying for a new role.

2. Opportunity
A directorship can provide opportunity to build your career and leadership skills in a way that you may not be able to in your day job.

3. Education
Contributing to directorship enables you to learn about new issues and refine governance skills.

4. Engagement
Directorship can facilitate community engagement and strengthen your leadership within the industry you operate.

5. Resilience
Directorships can improve career resilience and provide strategic understanding of workforce dynamics and the challenges of running an organisation.

6. Continuity  
If you need to take a career break at any stage, a directorship can provide career continuity and support you to maintain professional contacts.

For more about Lel Smit’s company – The Capital Network – visit here.

For more from Women Love Tech on investment, visit here.

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