How Sitting On A Board Can Improve Your Career?
Have you ever thought about being on a board? Probably not, right? But there’s many reasons why it might be a good idea! It could benefit you in terms of developing your skills, and improving your career prospects. And it also gives you a new way to put your current skills to use.
I currently sit on a board of trustees for a small charity. I was looking for volunteering opportunities near me, and this popped up in my search. Although I must admit when faced with the term “board of trustees” I was a little intimidated. It sounded very serious, and more appropriate to somebody with more experience and seniority. But that shouldn’t be the case!
Put very simply boards are a governing body, that could be for a school, a charity or a company. While this is serious stuff, it doesn’t mean that it’s an exclusive club. It’s a good idea to ensure that boards are diverse, in many ways. Boards are meant to question and challenge, and without diversity the ability to challenge or think differently is limited.
A quick google image search of “board of trustees” brings up a lot of group photos, mostly of old white men. There are some with women, but rarely do they make up half the number. And there’s little in the way of age or ethnic diversity. This is a missed opportunity, as we all have skills to bring to the table, and lived experiences that may drive a new perspective.
So what type of skills are boards looking for, and do you have them? Well there’s some standards, that any board need input from experts, and these include legal and financial skills. Quite often boards will be looking for someone with qualifications in these areas. Other skills valued by boards include strategy, marketing and communications, fundraising and IT.
Different boards will be looking for different skills at different times, depending on their current members and skills. It’s important to note that board members don’t usually get involved in the day to day running. So if you’re a communications expert you will be offering your advice in this area and not issuing all their comms or managing their social media.
However, I think one of the crucial skills needed to sit on a board is to think critically, and be confident asking challenging questions. Sitting on a board means ensuring the board is making the right decisions for the charity, school or company. And this is why diversity is vital, as you can offer fresh insight on how decisions made could impact or be perceived.
You might, as a young board member, have more insight in how best to communicate with a younger audience, and which communications channels are actually being used by your peer group. Or, as a governor at your child’s school you can raise how decisions will impact on the local community, and what you think is important to your community.
Being involved with a board gives you the opportunity to both shape and support the work done by an organisation that you care about, which in turn could have a direct impact on your local community. It is rewarding as you are making a difference to a cause you’re passionate about. But it can also be rewarding in terms of your personal development.
This opportunity will give you a huge amount of experience when it comes to strategic decision making, problem solving and analysis. It can take a long time to get to a position in your career where you have an input into strategies. But this is part and parcel of sitting on a board, and a great way to gain meaningful experience in this area to help your career.
Board positions offer insight into other areas you have less experience in. For instance, while you may be good with money, you‘ve never had responsibility for a budget at work. Sitting on a board involves making decisions about how to spend money, and potentially a lot of it. You’ll have a financial expert on hand, but you’re part of the decision making group too.
Assuming you’ve found a diverse board to sit on, you will gain a wealth of experience in team working, and all that comes with it. You might not have much in common with your fellow board members, but you will need to listen to your colleagues, constructively challenge them, negotiate with them, influence them, and work collaboratively with them.
Not only this but if you’re managing to take on a board position in addition to your full time job you will become a master of managing your time effectively, and prioritising things in order to meet all of your commitments. Especially if you manage to maintain additional commitments on top of this, like never missing your weekly yoga class!
It will also give you the opportunity to meet new people who you wouldn’t ordinarily cross paths with. This could open up more networking opportunities, and the chance to hear about jobs coming up elsewhere, or to get a mentor from a different industry.
I think it’s also a massive confidence boost in your own skill set. And this can be useful in your career, as you know you’re good at what you do because you’re skills are valued outside of work too. This might give you the extra confidence you need to go for a promotion, or to mentor someone yourself, or it might be enough that it just makes you feel good.
If you think being on a board is right for you, then consider what type of board appeals to you.
Could you help a charity that you’re passionate about? Find trustee vacancies at doit.org or via reach volunteering. Or would you rather be a school governor? Get in touch with your local council. There’s even organisations that specialise in helping women gain board positions such as Women on Boards and the 30% Club.
Written by Aimee Atkinson, who can be found as @AimeeLouTweets on Twitter.