Her personal experiences gave real credibility to her suggestions and advice to the audience, as they asked questions far beyond the allotted time. In particular, Fiona was able to identify with military colleagues, being part of a Forces family with a very encouraging father who was in the RAF.
Fiona helped us see that the benefit of having a non-executive role - even in small organisations, charities and community groups - is that you are exposed to a wide variety of disciplines outside of your daily work commitment. It is rare to get exposure to an understanding of marketing, finance, health and safety, human resources, new business development and a host of other capabilities that often are in short supply in a tightly defined job, particularly early in one’s career. Having this experience, even in a voluntary role, creates a differentiator between you and other candidates in either your chosen career or in a future executive role.
A lively exchange with the audience brought up tips to help you be heard in robust environments where minorities are often talked over, how to maintain your authenticity whilst changing your behaviour enough to have your ideas heard in important meeting, and how we can all play a part in recognising unconscious bias and calling it out. The gentlemen in the audience were warmly welcomed and contributed to the discussion on how they used their networks to access Board roles which might not be advertised. One tactic was to let others know that you are available for the opportunity through work, social and getting chatting to people who are outside of your “type” to expand your point of view.
It was clear that the discussion had stimulated debate for quite some time after Fiona had finished speaking. It seems likely that the next tranche of Board members in waiting were energised to go and look for their next role!
For those of you who are interested in further the conversation about your own Board career aspirations, please visit the Women on Boards website.