“I think this is a fantastic programme, and I wish I’d had the chance to do it” says Sue Charteris, who leads a session on ethics, corporate social responsibility and adding value on Westminster Business School’s acclaimed Women for the Board Programme. “I’ve been wowed by how many skills there are in the room, and the capacity for women involved to learn from one another.”
Facilitator, mentor, coach
Through her company Equalvalue, Sue is an adviser on public policy, a facilitator, mentor and accredited leadership coach, who is passionate about helping individual leaders and their ventures to flourish.
She described her Women for the Board session on her blog, written during the first Programme in July 2014.
“I drew up some hypothetical scenarios. There were no ‘right answers’ but we had a really stimulating discussion and developed some sound principles. The key word that came up was trust. At a time when public confidence in institutions is really low, we agreed on the importance of anticipating how the citizen or customer might view things.”
Preparing for a board role
Sue’s hypothetical scenarios are challenging. They demand the calm, nuanced approach, co-operative mindset and intelligent diplomacy board members are routinely called on to provide. Working through them provides participants with active insight into the dilemmas they might be called upon to resolve when they attain a board role.
Preparation of this kind is key in ensuring that women aiming for a board role have the confidence, experience and skills to do the job well. But, Sue stresses, there are also organisation-specific questions women should address when considering which board or boards they want to join. Sometimes, she explains,
“it’s much easier to go onto a mixed board. So, if you don’t want to be the first woman on a board, and you don’t want to be the first black woman on a board or you’re fed up of doing that because it’s the third time you’ve done it, then you need to ask some questions in advance.”
Do your research: read the accounts and business plan
Alongside researching the board’s composition, it’s also important to see the organisation’s accounts and business plan in advance “so that you know what you’re walking into. You might not mind, but you need to know whether you’re in a turnaround situation, or a status quo situation before you start.”
And “get to know the chair. Because that’s the key relationship.”
She has one further piece of advice for women who might be uncertain about applying for a board role.
Be confident, be yourself, be politically savvy
“Have the confidence to go for it and be yourself. Be authentic, but recognise that you also need to be politically savvy with a small p.”
“I think,” Sue says, that women tend to “do a lot of second-guessing about what other people think of us, and that can make us too cautious and too nervous.
“There’s a lot of evidence about women only applying for jobs they know they can already do. The number of times I’ve looked at a job description and thought, ‘oh, I can’t do point 7 on the JD or person spec, I’d better not apply. There’ll be people much more qualified than me. The little voice of ‘oh, I shouldn’t really be putting myself forward’ can take over. You have to say of course you can. We have to tell ourselves we have got the experience and the skills or we wouldn’t be there.”
So go for it…
Watch Sue Charteris speak on preparing for a board role
4 must-reads on preparing for a board role
Preparing for a board role? – the Ministry for Women, New Zealand
How to get a boardroom position: practical tips for success – Claire Braund in the Guardian
Preparing Your Board Resume – Deborah Rosati for Women Get on Board