Writers at Women in the Boardroom had the opportunity to interview some WIB members to gain insight into their personal and professional experiences and knowledge about antiracism, diversity and inclusion, and equity in the boardroom and corporate setting. We wanted to learn more about what efforts they and their organizations are making to affect change for women and men of color within these organizations and/or how they’ve perceived these changes as women of color.
This week we spoke with Angela Brock-Kyle, the Founder and CEO of B.O.A.R.D.S., a private, integrity-based board governance and engagement advisory service enriching board assessments, strategic skill alignment, and risk management activities for companies facing crises and/or growth opportunities. Angela is a recognized corporate governance expert drawing upon her experiences as an institutional investor for TIAA across sectors including retail, communications, financial technology, transportation, manufacturing, utilities, and sports facilities. She became a leading asset management intrapreneur and risk management leader during her 25 years with TIAA, a Fortune 100 firm respected governance leader.
She has been recognized by the NACD as a Leading Director and worked with the NACD to develop its Director Certification.
Angela serves on the board of Hunt Companies, Inc., a global real estate and infrastructure asset manager and Guggenheim Funds, a mutual funds complex. She is also the Governance Chair for the YMCA Retirement Fund. Until it was acquired at a 40% premium, Angela served as audit chair for Infinity Property & Casualty, a NASDAQ company.
When did you become interested in corporate board service and why?
Towards the end of my corporate career, I started thinking about what the next phase of my work life would look like, what I enjoyed doing, and how to align those components. I was looking to rebalance my life and focus on things where I felt I could add the most value and enjoy. I wanted to have more impact. During my early years at TIAA, I interfaced with C-level executives when meeting with the leadership teams of companies that we considered investing in. Later, through multiple roles as an internal facing executive leadership team member, I confirmed that I was influential and impactful. I sharpened my ability to assess situations from multiple and unique perspectives, think critically about problems that arose in these areas and offer insights and suggestions. My willingness to ask thought provoking and challenging questions that no one else asked has proven to be a valuable asset for this type of service.
In what ways do you think being a woman and a person of color has shaped your professional journey?
I’ve been noticed. That was both positive and negative because at times I was held back and other times I was pushed forward. Being noticed was a more meaningful advantage than I initially understood. As I’ve moved through various parts of my career, I’ve become more aware of the fact that I am noticed because I am a Black woman. It leads some people to assume that I don’t belong in the room or that I have a minor role in that room. Many people assume that I’m not the one leading the team. For example, many years ago, I was involved in financing sports stadiums and arenas for major league teams, an effort that I actually led and developed into an agenting role, leading a consolidated group of investors. In one of those deals I had the group of investors with me and we met the client for the first time. I introduced myself and other members of my team. People on the company’s side, directed all of their questions, comments, and attention to a white male that was on my team until I redirected their attention.
There have been other experiences such as when I’ve said something and nobody acknowledged it, as if it hadn’t come out of the right mouth. To mitigate/address this behavior, I typically mention something that has been overlooked or underappreciated and, if necessary, explain the potential significance or impact of discussing the topic. I am an individual who has many tools at her disposal to have an impact which I successfully deploy when and where needed.
And there have been times I was moved forward for some of positions when I was included on a slate, like the “Rooney Rule” to include Black candidates on the list for NFL coaching roles. Being noticed because of my color has been helpful, particularly once I realized that this was a distinction that could be used to my advantage. 27 candidates applied to be Chief of Staff for Investment Management, a role I secured that expanded to be COS for a newly organized $400 billion Asset Management business and changed the trajectory of my career.
Why is antiracism essential in the corporate board environment and what strategies have you witnessed that are being used to respond to these challenges?
Leadership in the boardroom is essential on every major issue, particularly those that don’t align with the tried and ‘true’ tactics that have been in place for years. Antiracism is a cultural issue on the third rail. As a result, you need to have someone step up and directly address that. There are different ways to do that, and it’s important you read your business to understand what approach to take. Each of the boards I sit on has required a different engagement approach ranging from having a conversation with the chair of the board, asking questions of leadership well in advance of a board meeting, and ensuring the conversation is started at the meeting. Challenging companies to act in ways that are aligned with expanding their business opportunity and sustainability while supporting the minority community is a strategic and cultural decision that must be customized in order to be sustained.
In the current environment, major corporations are engaging in a great deal of antiracist rhetoric. Do you feel this messaging is affecting change?
To paraphrase an old adage – “If you think it then speak it, you’ll start to do it”. Action can be wonderful, but sustainable transformation occurs planting the seeds of change and providing them with all the resources they need to flourish. When you succeed, you will be surrounded by large, sturdy ‘oak trees’. It’s a process. Some people aren’t good gardeners. They may forget to water the seedlings, they may overfertilize or limit their access to sunlight. Even well-intentioned people may not know what to do or maintain their commitment in the long run. That’s why it’s important to continue this messaging in the boardroom, to ensure people aren’t taking their eye off the ball. It has taken too much to get to this point–we cannot afford to fail to move forward. We must insist and persist.
What can corporations and board members do to act as allies to Black business owners?
It’s situational. Investing in small businesses and mentoring is always useful, but I’m aware of businesses going even further. They’ve opted to extend vendor relationships and partner with more minority’s businesses. One example could be to help these businesses to enhance their IT systems because they may not have the knowledge or the resources to discover it. This is a form of investment in and commitment to these businesses that goes beyond just placing orders with them. Of course, mentorship and internship programs are always valuable, but it’s also important to ask your employees what they need and provide them with the resources to help them to succeed.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to women of color who are interested in corporate board service.
There isn’t just one piece of advice I can offer, and I think it really depends on who you are as a person. I’d advise women to speak up. I speak up about what I think makes sense that I don’t see people doing. I speak about what I want to do. There are people who don’t. I think if they don’t, they’re doing themselves a disserve. Think of yourself as a white male – they speak up all the time – they aren’t always right, and that’s ok. If you’re bringing your perspective and doing it in a respectful way, it’s valuable. Sharing your knowledge and talent is valuable and that’s why you’re in the room – whether a boardroom or corporate setting. If you want to get into a different room or continue to stay in the room, you have to add value.