Changing the Face of the Boardroom: Asoka Basnayake
In this interview series, we take a look at life as a ‘non traditional’ board member and the benefits they bring to boards and organisations.
Today we are profiling Asoka Basnayake. Asoka has a spectacularly unique background that she utilises on the many boards that she is and has been involved with. She is truly changing the face of the boardroom and I am happy to be sharing some of her story here today.
Get on Board Australia (GOBA): What board(s) do you sit on?
Asoka Basnayake (AB): Currently I am on the Ethnic Advisory Board, New Zealand Police Auckland City (since 2013). Previously I have been a Member of the Ethnic Peoples’ Advisory Panel – Auckland Council (2013-2016); Member and Media Spokesperson, Ethnic Peoples’ Advisory Panel – Auckland Council (2010-2013);
Deputy Chairperson and Member of the Board of Migrant Action Trust; and Member of the Management Board of Access Community Radio Member of South Asia Trust.
GOBA: What is unique about you as a board member?
AB: Apart from the obvious (female migrant), I have expert knowledge in cultural diversity. I am Sri Lankan born and have lived, worked and travelled in over 50 countries. I speak three languages fluently including Russian. I have worked for years in the refugee/migrant sector and have been published widely as a writer on migrant issues, including a book on migrant employment issues.
I’ve also worked in higher education, education sectors, Equal Employment Opportunities, with disabled people, refugees and migrants and in women’s studies for over 20 years. I now manage my own consultancy practice advising on managing diversity and intercultural communication.
GOBA: How did you get your board seat?
AB: My first board position was at the Asian Advisory Board NZ Police. I was asked to be on it when I was working in the migrant sector after I participated in a series of workshops that set up the Asian Strategy of NZ Police through my then work. I was invited to be on most and applied for the Council board role. You never know where a board opportunity may come from!
GOBA: How does your uniqueness benefit the board / organisation?
AB: Many organisations today have a focus on diversity and inclusion. My expertise in the area is much valued by my current board and the boards I have served on previously.
GOBA: What has your experience on a board been like? Do you feel that your differences are a benefit or a hindrance?
AB: Initially, I was not comfortable sitting on a board, although I had sat on a few before I moved to NZ. I then gained more confidence when I realised that my knowledge is valued and I could contribute meaningfully. I believe that my differences add value to all of the board positions I have held.
GOBA: What advice would you give to people in a similar situation to you?
AB: Give it a go! Being on a board is very rewarding.
ABOUT CHANGING THE FACE OF THE BOARDROOM
Many times I am told by aspiring board members that they feel like they are not qualified for the boardroom, or that they have nothing to offer. Much of this self-opinion comes from the perception that is reinforced in messages about the boardroom; you have to be old, connected, conservative, and extremely educated to be on a board.
I call BS on this!
I am certain that there are many wonderful board members out there who don’t fit the traditional “pale and stale” stereotype of company directors / board members. People who came to the boardroom along the path less travelled, with a unique career background or because of some rare characteristic that has proved invaluable for an organisation.
I know they’re out there and I want to profile them to show aspiring directors that they do have something to offer. That the boardroom is somewhere they can thrive and give back; and that their uniqueness can have extraordinary value to an organisation. I want organisations and people everywhere to know it too.
READ OTHER CHANGING THE FACE OF THE BOARDROOM PROFILES