Board Level
Board Level
19 Oct 2020
9 Part I - Sam Mostyn on opening doors to women on boards
27 mins

This episode, Catherine interviews Non-Executive Director and Sustainability Advisor, Sam Mostyn, one of Australia’s most experienced female board directors and chairs with experience that spans business, government, sport, the arts and community organisations. Sam talks about the responsibility of being a trailblazer, why she’s not concerned about being a quota appointment to a board and why women should worry less about why they’re asked to go on a board and think more about the skills they bring to the table.  

Part 1 (of this two-part episode) 

Valuable Discussion Points  

[00:48] Why did Sam take the board pathway, what came up and what crossroads did she find herself facing? 

Working as a senior executive at Insurance Australia Group, Sam was approached by the Australian Football League with an opportunity to be the first female appointed to its board. Whilst it was a huge decision, Sam felt it was the right one and would provide her with invaluable skills and life experience for her future career. In addition, it also gave her an opportunity to help change the whole nature of governance in a sporting code that she cared about and bring her own skills and knowledge to the table.  

[03:28] Was the experience a baptism of fire?  

Sam was the first female appointed board member within an industry that has traditionally been very male-dominated. Whilst, Sam knew the role would require a high level of self confidence, sense and tactics which she mentioned can be difficult at times, she was surprised to learn that whilst the Australian Football League is viewed as a very masculine organisation, women play an extremely important role in supporting these organisations. As such, Sam made a conscious effort to ensure that whilst she was the first female appointed board director, she certainly wouldn’t be the last, with five strong female leaders having been appointed since her commencement.  

[06:29] Her support of the quota system and how she opened the doors for future female board members? 

Women still do not have parity in most industries and companies and as a result there needs to be quotas and systems in place that ensure women are seated at the table where important decisions are being made.  Women, who believe these quotas are not meritorious appointments should aim to decouple the word merit from quota and understand that they were chosen because they were the best person for the job. For the women who are offered  these opportunities, Sam encourages them to accept and show their great character, strength and merit rather than worrying about how they got there. up to them to bring their best self into those rooms and open the way for others to come. 

[08:30] When is it the right time to make the transition to a board level position, such as a NED?  

There are arguments for both taking on the role of a NED, or remaining in an executive role. It comes down to the strengths each woman has built over their careers. It is important to understand that a NED role is not for everyone, it is not a lifestyle choice and can be very demanding and challenging. However, it is also extremely rewarding. 


Part 2 (of this two-part episode) 

Valuable Discussion Points  

[05.27] Has she said no to a board approach? 

Sam’s approach to being a board member is to ensure she has a balanced portfolio of organisations ranging from ASX companies, to non-profits, to charities. Whilst many opportunities have presented themselves, Sam chooses those businesses and roles that she cares about. It doesn’t matter whether the company is big or small, or whether it adds lustre to her CV, if the company values do not align with hers, it is not a board where she can deploy her best skills. 

[16:59] What has changed in the boardrooms? What is different now? 

There are more women in the boardrooms now and whilst this is not a numbers game, we are still not where we would like to be in terms of representation. At the core of it, it is about the quality of the decision-making and governance and that will always benefit from having more women and more diverse people in those rooms. The topics have also changed. Things that were previously very hard to raise are now front and centre. 

[19:53] What is the one thing that Sam wishes she’d known when she set out on her NED career? 

She wishes she'd known what actually happens when a group of people are charged with the responsibility of some of the most complex business decisions in an environment where the rest of the world is watching the outcomes. There’s no end to the complexity of discussions that come with a group of people on any board. The importance of a chair in being able to lead the conversation, allowing it to expand without becoming disruptive and then bringing it back to reach a resolution is invaluable.  


Key Learnings  

  • Women will not get into boardrooms through hoping, wishing or praying. Targets and quotas are needed and when women are appointed, their job is to carry out the role effectively.  
  • There's a whole psychology of women on boards when you are the first or second about how you're heard. 
  • Carefully choose which company you are going to spend your time with and where you will deploy your skills. Don’t get stuck somewhere for five years just because it was a nice thing to do at that time.  
  • Let your chair know what you are bringing to the table, don’t let it be a surprise to the board.  
  • Make it your business to know what moves the board, and what things are happening in their lives. The more you know about someone and what moves them, the greater the possibility that you can move and drive them.  


Quotable Quotes  

“So decouple the word merit from quota and know that you're being appointed because you were the best person for the job.” – Sam Mostyn 

“The idea that it's just a natural move from the executive world non-executive is one to retest. It's a very personal decision about where you really want to deploy skills and talent.” – Sam Mostyn 

“I don't think the chair should have some greater power or role other than to be the conductor of the best outcomes from the team around the table.” – Sam Mostyn 

“You get only one chance on entrance to negotiate or talk to the chair about what it is you want to bring.” – Sam Mostyn 


Important Resources and Links  

If you would like to gain knowledge in governance, and develop as a director in your industry or field, visit

If you would like to learn more about how CommBank is ensuring women are advancing their growth in business, visit

Host of the Board Level podcast, Catherine Fox is one of Australia’s leading commentators on women and the workforce. If you’re interested in learning more about Catherine and the issues she’s currently discussing, visit

If you’re interested in connecting with Sam or viewing her professional portfolio and achievements, visit her LinkedIn via  

The Board Level podcast is produced by Nicole Hatherly, recorded at RadioHub Studios with post production by Cooper Silk and Iain Wilson.  

Disclaimer: Guests featured in the podcast are speaking from their personal experiences only. As this advice has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs, you should, before acting on the advice, consider its appropriateness to your circumstances.

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