Once you have settled into your board role, it's time to start thinking about how you can use your knowledge, experience and influence to help ease the path of other women wanting to take up leadership positions.
While a lot of progress has been made on the path to achieving equal representation on government boards, a lot more can be done if the women already successfully serving on boards make it their business to help others follow in their footsteps.
There are several ways you can do this.
Talk to any woman you think may be interested in what you're doing and why you're doing it. Tell them about the benefits of board service. Tell them about the support that's available for women taking on leadership roles. Point out the talents they have and how they can use them to strengthen their community by joining a board. Ask them if they would like further information and refer them to the Office of Women's policy website (www.women.vic.gov.au) so they can learn more.
The Victorian Government coordinates a Women's Register, which has been put in place as part of a broad government strategy to increase the representation of women on boards and committees.
The register (discussed in more detail in The Victorian Women's Register help sheet) is used as a point of contact for government departments and not-for-profit organisations to help them find female candidates for board vacancies. It aims to make the nomination process as easy as possible by providing all information and nomination forms directly to suitable candidates.
If you know women who you think would be great board members, encourage them to sign up to the register. Point them to the help sheet mentioned above. The database already holds the details of about 1800 women but there is certainly room for more – in fact, the bigger the pool of candidates the better chance there is that a greater number will make it into the boardroom.
As we mention in our Networking and mentoring help sheet, many women who have joined boards become discouraged if they are not offered any support. New board members need to know they are not alone. They need to be offered support, advice and encouragement – and there is no better person to fulfill this role than someone who has been through the process, knows the ups and downs and, more importantly, has some idea how to overcome any obstacles that might arise.
If you are an experienced board member, you can help support the development of others by taking an active interest in women who join your board or other boards that you know of – and asking them if you can be of any assistance. Of course, some will want to make their own way but most will be happy for the offer of help.
Mentoring relationships can hold many benefits. For you, there will be the satisfaction of passing your knowledge on and the chance to make new connections and friendships. For new board members, mentors can:
You could also think about setting up a structured mentoring program for your board, if it doesn't have one already, so all new board members can make an easier transition to their new role.
It is important that you do not downplay what you can offer as a mentor or be intimidated by the role – after all, you probably already serve as a mentor (in practice if not in name) to various members of your circle of family, friends and colleagues.
The fact that you have made it onto a board at all is a good indication that you have a lot to offer as a mentor. However, you should also take into account some other qualities necessary for a good mentoring relationship. Good mentors are:
From time to time you will no doubt come across vacancies on your board or other boards. Here is when you can use your influence to help encourage more board spots to be offered to women.
You should consider discussing with your board colleagues the possibility of making some structural changes to your board to make it easier for gender equity to be achieved. Efforts could include setting up an access and equity committee to ensure equal opportunity to board opportunities for all eligible people regardless of gender (or any other barriers).
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