bully-free-zoneMinorities suffer the impact whilst the solutions to exit the patronising epidemic is everyone’s responsibility
By Karen Bertoli

Subtle and blatant bullying is not the most “feel good” topic to analyse in an already tumultuous global business environment. However, there is no skirting the issue (no pun intended); and bullying in the Board Room is infectious often creating its own version of Chinese whispers with subtle connotations and falsities undermining relationships, communication and Board effectiveness..

Let’s first define common bullying behaviours

Interrupting, ignoring, speaking above others, forming silos, patronising responses, not taking a challenge seriously, not listening nor taking advice, assuming an incorrect level of knowledge, undermining competencies, gender, age or ethnicity ability framing (asking the female director to make the tea or take the minutes) … and so I could continue. Consciously or sub consciously, thereby neglecting the duty of governance as a Director responsible to shareholders and stakeholders.

The common or blatant bully has aggressive, blocking, imposing or negative body mannerisms, bad or loud language, excessive technical word usage, pigeon holes individuals and treats others as inferior.

The more dangerous, subtle and, often invisible to others, a style of bullying includes primarily patronising engagement, pigeon holing, framing and other engagement faux pas listed above.

It is important to understand who is the target of bullying

Women and “other minorities” which here may be defined as not the majority in the group of the Board based on gender, ethnicity, religion, age, location, school, education, competencies, professional training, experiences, direct subject knowledge, EQ or IQ focus and role titles …. and so I could continue!!

Bullying is not limited to recipients being women, often any minority group which includes minorities for example that have different skills sets and experience. I have witnessed a vast variety of bullying behaviour including man on man, to the extreme of a CEO bullying a Chairman, GFD bullying a CEO and a Chairman bullying a SID, just to identify a few.

There is no doubt that humans by nature generally gravitate towards those who are similar as it’s the most comfortable. We must remember that the purpose of a Board is to offer independent guidance and governance to a Chief Executive and management.

In contrast, best practice, because of corporate experiences, evidences that a diversity of perspective, challenge and input provides for a more robust conversation, which will lead to the right decisions.

Neutralisation of ancient mindsets

Communication, listening and being made aware of such behaviour patterns is crucial. It is not easy to see this fully without an external evaluator explaining how the interplays are impacting the Board’s effectiveness. Good governance is a powerful support as is process and structure; these are leading guides to help prevent and address bullying in the Boardroom.

It is also the responsibility of the bullied to work out, in that environment, how to address the issue for the greater improvement in the Board’s effectiveness. This is not a single conversation, this is a time and people game that requires good communication, trust, applied EQ (social awareness), persistence and third party help internally, and for full benefit, external input, handled appropriately.

If business and Boards do not address these ineffective contributors, the subtle (most often) and less subtle bullying behaviours will continue to challenge minorities and Board effectiveness. Governance, leadership, structure and culture will support discussions existing in the right forum, minuted, actions defined and accountabilities set.

Time to change?

With the rise in understanding the value of diversities and given we operate in a more open worldwide community, bullies in the Boardroom should find themselves losing steam as Board effectiveness is a genuine focus.

Chairmen, you can often be unwitting culprits, but it is your call to lead on “we embrace diversity and we have a safe culture for all to contribute”. This tone from the top will underpin an effective Board.

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It’s not about diversity it’s about acceptance. This is where we are – so what now?

By Karen Bertoli

CEOs being incentivised on diversity seems inappropriate. Extra coaching for women to get to the top is painful for them to absorb being singled out. Identifying the best people for the benefit of a company’s success seems more logical. Years have been spent trying to understand how we got where we are today with regards to women and men and the lack of representation in the board room and top roles. Enough already on the one diversity the market harps on – it is still only one of the many diversity challenges business and people face.

Developing fair practices for talent scouting and hiring where all candidates are given equal measure doesn’t seem too impossible in our new world of data crunching and metrics tracking, but yet we are not yet getting it right…. When role briefs require a titled person!!

Sir Winfried noted “Lloyds want, by 2020, 40% of management roles to be filled by women.” This we know will be a challenge (but again we measure just one diversity). Perhaps the onus is on big business to create and set the standard of the balanced cultural corporate skeleton.

Responsibility for change needs accountability and liability. A Chairman’s one role is good governance. The Board’s role is a fiduciary duty to shareholders and stakeholders. If we are to see change which is more inclusive, we need to create a forum and a measure.  How about a Board Committee to address “Diversity”, a remit that ranges from Boardroom to Customer. Again, I ask, are we creating a false space, should we not be doing the right thing naturally. Should it not be normal that we create a balanced environment. We should accept that we are all different and bring different perspectives and capabilities? Unfortunately, we know we only achieve what we measure.

Finally, one crucial element which needs to be built into this never-ending paradigm of lack of equal representation is the third party coming to the table. How will women and men fair with Robots performing active roles? This is a reality, it is already happening. Robots are not our enemies but are future reality. However, if we cannot seem to actively solve past and current complexities, how in the world will we manage with the influx of technical driven characters who are programmed to be “us” and we are not even sure how to integrate “us” correctly yet.

Something to ponder until next time. . .

This specialised course is dedicated to business leaders on track to become a non-executive director or committee chairman, or those newly in a non-exec role. It is designed to also benefit directors and stakeholders needing to strengthen their knowledge in implementing an effective boardroom.


For further information please click here:


Sharon Constancon, together with David Howells,  will provide a mixture of presentations / practical exercises / case studies / and delegate discussion in order to achieve a palatable exchange of information, experience, and ideas from both presenter and delegates. 

The aim of the Masterclass is to provide delegates firstly with a clear understanding of just how powerful director behaviour is in affecting Boardroom decision making and overall Board effectiveness; and secondly to examine in what ways behaviour can be altered to produce improved decision making and Board performance.

Course at a Glance

  • Date: 15 March 2016

  • CPD Points: 8

  • Course Cost: £450.00

  • Course Length: 8 hours (12.00pm – 8.00pm)

  • Location: GTA University Centre, Guernsey

  • Tutor: Sharon Constançon and David Howells


The aim of the session is to provide delegates with a clear understanding of what goes wrong on Boards, why it does so, what part individual character traits have in the equation, and how Board members and Chairmen can alter behaviour in order to create a more effective Board.

Course at a Glance

  • Next Start Date: 15 March 2016
  • CPD Points: 1.5
  • Course Cost: £60.00
  • Course Length: 1.5 hours (8.30am – 10.00am)
  • Location: GTA University Centre, Guernsey
  • Tutor: Sharon Constançon


Sharon Constançon led a highly productive and enjoyable Masterclass on ‘Board Behaviour’ on the afternoon of November 24th at her London offices. A capacity room heard excellent presentations from David Howells of Kiddy International, and Sharon Constançon. They heard a formal case study and participated vociferously in a practical exercise. Later in the evening, after breaking to enjoy some more relaxed socialising and discussion, we were delighted that Professor Andrew Kakabadse of the Henley Business School came to address the delegates and provide a fascinating insight into his research to date.

This was the first in a programme of Masterclasses which will be run though 2016. Anyone interested in attending any of these should contact Genius Methods on events@geniusmethods.com 

Genius Methods is proud to be sponsoring the Best Board Disclosure – FTSE 250 Award at this year’s ICSA Annual Awards Dinner.

The short list for this award is:

Best Board Disclosure – FTSE 250 – sponsored by Genius Methods

  • Great Portland Estates plc
  • Premier Farnell plc
  • Provident Financial plc
  • Telecity Group plc

IoD Berkshire – The Directors’ Breakfast – Common Boardroom Mistakes …. to Avoid

The Vineyard, Newbury  
20 November 2015
07:30 – 09:30

Owing to the success of the IoD Cliveden breakfast Club meetings the IoD has decided to hold a couple of meetings in West Berkshire and have chosen the award winning hotel, The Vineyard as the venue.

Sharon will be speaking on the common mistakes made by Boards, (and how to avoid them), based upon her extensive experience in Board evaluation.

For tickets see IoD Events site:http://www.iod.com/connecting/events




This unique annual award has been established only for Chartered Directors who are nominated by others for outstanding achievements in the field of corporate governance and organisational direction. The award honours Dr Neville Bain, who was Chairman of IoD for the period 1 May, 2006 to 1 May 2012. Dr Bain will be remembered for his significant contribution to business, for his seminal works on Corporate Governance and for his support of the Chartered Director qualification, in which he was significantly involved.

Sharon was honoured to be named as a finalist for this prestigious award.