Getting women on board


An organisation which aims to increase the number of women on Britain’s boards by advertising vacancies is being launched in the UK from next week.

Women on Boards was started in Australia where it has 16,000 members and has helped around 1,000 women find board positions. It started in 2006 after the Sydney Olympics following a debate about the lack of women on sporting boards.

“When you look at the British Olympics,” says UK managing director Fiona Hathorn, “there is a similar lack of female representation on UK sports boards. In Australia the debate led to two women being asked by the government to investigate the problem. They realised a huge number of talented women did not have access to board vacancies.”

A website was created where board vacancies were advertised for free. Initially the jobs were taken from newspapers. “The idea was that women are time short. They are not necessarily at golf clubs or the like where board vacancies are being discussed,” says Fiona.

Once the organisation was known across Australia it built up a database and people started letting the website know about vacancies.

UK launch
“In the UK we are trying to find aspirational qualified women who are not on the radar of the search firms,” says Fiona. The organisation, which is sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Standard Bank, is launching across the UK between 24 September and 4 October at a series of gala events in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Each event costs twenty pounds of which half goes to charity and there are a series of high profile guest speakers such as Sir David Normington, Commissioner for Public Appointments. Many are men, an intentional move, says Fiona, because the organisation recognises the need to engage men.

It also runs workshops which aim to help and inspire women to apply for board positions. It’s not just about the FTSE companies, says Fiona. Any board experience is important and gives women valuable knowledge and helps them to network.

A third of a recent workshop entitled Seven steps to success was about helping women to sell themselves and championing their achievements since women tend to underplay what they can do and play up what they can’t, she adds. She says things like reading a balance sheet are things that can hold women back, but they can be learnt. “Boards want skills that add value and that’s not necessarily accountancy knowledge,” she states.

The workshops aim to give women tips on applying and being interviewed for board positions. For instance, Fiona says they need to think what they can do for the board and why the board might need them when they write their cvs. “It shouldn’t just be a chronology of jobs you have done. It should be more about what you can do for the organisation in question,” she says.


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