Skip to content

First steps towards a board role

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have just released their new report on board appointment practices in the UK’s largest 350 listed firms. More than 60% of these firms have not met a voluntary target of 25% female board members. If you’re interested in boosting these numbers, this week’s post by Rowena Ironside, Chair of Women on Boards UK, explores what types of roles you can seek in the boardroom, how to go about it, and what you can bring to the table. 


Some of us are fortunate to get an insight into the
boardroom early on in our career. In my case this was thanks to being an
executive director of a start-up business at the age of 30. But for most people
what goes on in the boardroom remains a mystery until very late in their
career. And if you don’t know what boards do, how do you know if your skills
are relevant or if the role is one that you will enjoy?
Women on Boards (WOB) exists to fill this information gap.
Our mission is to influence a measurable increase in the proportion of women
both on boards and in “pipeline” roles at the executive level. And to achieve
increased transparency in the board recruitment process, because at the moment
the majority of board roles (public sector aside) are never advertised.

The good news is that the single most valuable asset in most
boardrooms is common sense. Accompanied by the courage to ask tough questions
and challenge the status quo from time to time.

Boards exist to challenge and support the executive
team. They add value through a combination
of collective judgement and the deep, specific expertise of each director. As an individual board member you don’t need
to know everything; you don’t even need to have expertise in the “core
business” of the organisation. As long as you bring a specific skill,
experience or network that is valuable to the organisation at that point in
time. For example:
  • Don’t assume that you need to be a
    horticulturalist or an environmentalist to join the board of Kew Gardens. They may have a gap for digital marketing or
    event management skills on their board this year.
  •  First board role? Not everyone around the table
    needs to have years of boardroom experience. A board that is explicitly searching for past governance experience is
    not going to be anybody’s first board role. But most boards are equally
    interested in your breadth of experience and professional skills.
A common mistake is defining your options too narrowly by
thinking you have to stay – or at least start – in “your sector”. Some charities need asset management and
M&A experience and you may find that a Public Sector board is in need of
your technology or risk management skills.

Women on Boards is there to help you navigate this
complexity. Our resources and support are designed to provide a structured
pathway to a board position that is right for you. As Clara Durodie, one of our members
described it last year: “It
felt as if someone was holding my hand, guiding me with care and skill”. WOB provides:
  1. Workshops, events and masterclasses that combine
    strategic insights and pragmatic advice. Our Getting Started: Realising your Board Potential workshop is a
    fast-paced tour through everything you need to know about directorship and how
    to do yourself justice as a candidate. Our Boardroom
    Conversations
    are designed to “open the curtains” so that you can be
    inspired by the opportunities on boards in a sector you haven’t previously
    considered, or for in-depth insights from current non-executives in an area you
    are targeting.
  2. Access to board vacancies across all sectors –
    most weeks we have at least 150 non-executive director, trustee and governor
    vacancies on the WOB Vacancy Board.
  3.  Feedback on your Board CV. Writing a non
    executive profile that does you justice takes time and requires insight into
    what board members actually do. We will help.
  4.  Personal advice, connections and encouragement. This
    is WOB’s USP.  We will support you with
    targeted interventions at key points along the way, like when you are preparing
    for a board interview. We also do hugs if you are recovering from coming
    second for that role you really wanted.
  5. A rich Resource Centre of reference materials,
    research, articles and success stories. Our On Board page is my personal
    favourite.
There are thousands of different
boards across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. WOB believes that there is a board role for
everyone who wants one and that you are never too young to understand what goes
on at the top table. The boardroom is
where capital is allocated and where the moral and ethical standards for
organisations in all sectors are set. We
need more female voices at the table.
For more information about strategic volunteering, read our previous post here.

Rowena Ironside is
Chair of Women on Boards UK, a non-executive director of the Digital Catapult
and sits on the Governing Body of Hughes Hall, Cambridge. Before “going
plural”, Rowena spent 25 years in the ICT industry, starting her career writing
software in Australia; building and selling an IT services business in London
and finally running several multi-national professional and managed services
businesses in the software and hosting industries. She took a year’s break in
2002 to complete the Sloan Masters at London Business School.
For more information
on Women on Boards, join The WOB Network



Posted by Muriel