Skip to main content

Lucy Armstrong Importance of Diversity in Public Appointments

Hello, I’m Lucy Armstrong, Chair of the Port of Tyne, and my background is in venture capital, and management consultancy. Probably for the last ten, fifteen years, I’ve been a non-exec or a chair, of businesses going through major points of change. What the Germans would call ‘mittelständisches’ businesses, whether its cultural change, radical growth, or transformation. And I’m speaking today as the Chair of the Port of Tyne.

The Port of Tyne is an interesting appointment which I took on about three and a half years ago. Because we’re a trust, so we’re not technically a public body. We have to operate commercially, we have to make a profit, we have to raise private money. But I was appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport. And the custodianship of the river is held in trust on behalf of future generations. So we have an interesting duality, of the need to grow our business and be commercial, but also to be custodians and stewards of the River Tyne, long, long into the future.

I have sought, as chair, in the recruitment process when we are looking for people, to look for diversity, yes, in protected characteristics such as age, gender, sexuality etcetera. But for me it’s that ‘method of mind’. Having people who look at the world differently, partly as a result of who they are, but also the experiences they’ve had, is what creates a truly diverse board and for rich discussion. And therefore, hopefully, better quality challenge and support of our executive team, and therefore more likely to be better decisions on behalf of the Port and its commercial running, but also in our custodianship and our stewardship role on behalf of the River.

Looking round the board, what I’m looking for is people who have got an open mind, people who are good at asking questions, people who listen really hard. And yes, they bring a rich depth and diversity of their own lived experience and their own skills. But they are not there to second guess the executive, they are not there to ‘man-mark’ the executive. They’re there to add, to challenge and to support the executive, so that the Port makes better decisions than it might have done otherwise.

And every time we recruit, that’s’ what we are looking for. To enhance and move us forward as an organisation, in the context of which we find ourselves today and what lies ahead of us in the future. And we are normally looking, in a port, often thirty to fifty years hence. Because that’s the kind of time period large infrastructure organisations like us have to plan for.