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Q&A Series with Women on Boards

Jill Earthy

Jill Earthy: “Find your passion, be proactive in identifying the organizations and reach out!”

Jill Earthy is an entrepreneurially minded leader who believes diversity drives innovation. As a strategic advisor, Jill works on a number of projects including Female Funders (powered by Highine BETA) to empower female leaders to become investors in early stage companies through education and access. She was formerly the Chief Growth Officer of FrontFundr, an online investment platform, bridging the gap between entrepreneurs and investors. She has successfully built two companies nationally and sold them, and then spent 8 years in leadership roles in the non-profit sector supporting entrepreneurs including as CEO of The Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Regional Director of Futurpreneur. She is a community leader and active mentor, currently serving on the national Board of Sustainable Development Technology Canada and as Past Chair of the Women’s Enterprise Centre in BC.

She is Co-Founder of the WEB Alliance, a collective of over 25 Women’s Business networks in BC and Co-Chairs the annual We for She Conference in Vancouver supporting the economic advancement of women. Jill was recently recognized by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion award as a Community Champion, by Business in Vancouver as an Influential Woman in Business and by WXN as one the Top 100 most powerful women in Canada in 2019.

Jill Earthy is sharing her experiences as a Past Chair, Women’s Enterprise Centre of BC.

Q: What drew you to the role of Chair at Women’s Enterprise Centre of BC?

A: A combination of things. I had just completed a 5 year stint as CEO for the Forum of Women Entrepreneurs and I had partnered quite a bit with the Women’s Enterprise Centre in that role. I was very familiar with the organization and it obviously aligned with my interests and passions so I felt that I could offer some value and participate.

Q: How did you get on that board?

A: I was approached and there was a formal interview process. This is key because there needs to be a match on both sides. While they were interviewing me to make sure I was a fit and that my skill set fitted with the gaps that they needed to fill, I wanted to make sure I could add value and understood the expectations. As a potential board member you want to understand what your areas of expertise are and you always want to ask questions of the board members on where they see the gaps.

Q: What kind of boards have you served on: functional, representative, operational, governance?

A: I have served on boards that operate under both Robert’s rule and governance model (CARVER model). The CARVER model differentiates the role of the CEO and the board and keeps the board at a very strategic level versus operational. I’ve been on the board for almost 6 years and I had the benefit of being deeply familiar with the organization and how it operated. The biggest difference for me in the first year was learning the CARVER model because it shapes even how the questions are asked in the board meeting, it shapes how the information is framed and circulated to us. The combination of understanding the rhythm of how a meeting is actually managed, understanding how you can actually contribute, understanding the other people around the table, their perspectives and how you can communicate and engage with them – there is always a steep learning curve for the first 12-18 months of being on a board.

Q: Can you provide an example of how board diversity has benefited your company?

A: When I came on as Chair at Women’s Enterprise Centre of BC my number one priority was to make sure we had some men on the board. That is a stepping stone for us. It has been greatly beneficial. It’s very important to have diversity of thought, perspective, culture and background. It’s really the diversity of thought that is essential. They are actually huge champions as they engage other men to participate too, so I think if we want change and not have the need for these specific women’s initiatives, we need to engage men in a constructive way. A variety of voices speaks to a larger audience.

Q: How do you recommend people get involved in serving on boards?

A: Starting in your own community and participating in your local community board you might be interested in. The first thing is identifying where your interests lie and what organizations really get you excited. Then start to figure out how to get involved. We know that board members come through networks.

I would recommend interviewing board members to get a sense of their experience. Two other resources I always recommend are the Provincial Board resourcing department as the government appoints people to 350 boards. Look at your network, you can start as a mentor or advisor and that could move into a board role.

Q: What preparation do you recommend that people undertake before interviewing for a board?

A: Depends on a variety of factors. For this board [Women’s Enterprise Centre of BC], we want at least three people with entrepreneurial background because those are the people we serve. We need members with financial knowledge, we need people with legal knowledge, people who understand marketing. Since we have a whole matrix of skills that are valuable to us as a board, we look at the gaps as we have opportunities to replace people on the board. We look at people’s interest. Have they worked in this space? Do they understand our mission? As per the CARVER model, we invest in the training of our board members so there’s a cost to the board so we appreciate people who are coming on to be committed for a period of time.

Q: From your own experience, what are some best practices that help to encourage diversity on boards and among management?

A: Having diverse perspectives is deeply enrooted in my values. No matter what the mission, we have to have that. Going back to the board skills matrix, it is making sure that diversity is one of the items on it. Looking at not just the backgrounds or skills of the members, but also what other strengths they are bringing to the table. We have to make sure there is not only diversity of gender but also culture and other backgrounds. If you don’t have candidates that fit those, you need to find them. It takes a bit of work but it’s not that hard once you put asks out and proactively look for people that fit what you need. If you build a list of interested candidates over time, you will have a pool to pick from when the opportunity arises so plan for it.

Interview by:
Elena Tikhomirova, Director of Strategic Initiatives - Women on Boards
Aashna Parmar, Committee Member - Women on Boards
Natalie Danny, Committee Member - Women on Boards