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Success on the Board FAQs

Frequently asked questions in relation to the Success on the Board: unlocking the power of underrepresented voices in research pilot.

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1. How did Success on the board start?

Wellcome has put diversity, equity and inclusion at the heart of its new strategy and working with the research community, Wellcome wants to help build a better research culture – one that is creative, inclusive and honest.

A diversity of voices, experiences and behaviours enhances the effectiveness and cultures of governance boards. And yet analysis of the diversity of UK university and research institute governing body membership, as well as data on governance from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, indicates that there is a disproportionate underrepresentation of certain minoritised groups compared with the sector and society at large.

A key objective both for Wellcome’s Diversity and Inclusion and Research Culture programmes is to build representative leadership. Wellcome is working with Advance HE to deliver the ‘Success on the board: unlocking the power of underrepresented voices in research’ programme to help build representative board and university level governance. Accountability and leadership will be important to create a more inclusive research culture. By equipping more people to contribute to leadership at this level we hope to increase representation and diversity directly, and also support the broader culture change needed.

Advance HE’s strategy also highlights the organisation’s intent to support diverse and inclusive governance in higher education. It believes that governance is only truly effective if it is so.

In 2021-22 and 2022-23, Wellcome and Advance HE jointly piloted two cohorts of the programme. From 2023 onwards, Advance HE is solely responsible for the delivery of a further three cohorts of the programme having secured a grant from Wellcome to continue it after the successful pilot phase. You can read the evaluation of the pilot phase here.

2. Who is the programme for?

The programme is for researchers, professional research services staff and technicians from underrepresented groups in UK universities and research institutes. The programme is open to women, trans people, people from ethnic minority groups and disabled people (including those with long term health conditions), who are interested in exploring joining a board.

These groups are protected in law under the Equality Act 2010 and there is some evidence that they are disproportionately underrepresented in governance roles in higher education. We draw this evidence from our analysis in 2020 and 2022 of the diversity of UK HE governors and wider data sets.

There are ten places per cohort, with one cohort per year.

Unfortunately this programme is not open to colleagues who are based outside of the UK.

3. I do not identify within the groups listed (women, trans people, people from ethnic minority groups and disabled people (including those with long term health conditions)) - can I still apply to the programme?

This programme is run in line with section 158 of the Equality Act 2010 which permits positive action to address disproportionately low levels of participation by certain protected groups in work related activities.. The programme is specifically designed to enable and encourage these protected groups to participate in governance roles. As such, places are reserved for those who identify with one of these groups. Eligibility decisions are made on an individual basis, taking into account personal context and experience. If you have any queries about your eligibility, please contact us at for more information.

We acknowledge that there are limitations with the current legal framework which – for example – does not enable us to consider socio-economic status as it is not defined as a protected characteristic, or to consider where people identify across multiple characteristics (sometimes referred to ‘intersectionality’). We are required to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the programme operates in accordance with legal requirements and best practice and we consider that the targeted [evidence-based] approach we have adopted is a proportionate means of achieving the overarching objectives we have described.

4. What do you consider a disability or long-term health condition for the purposes of this programme?

The programme uses the definition of disability as outlined in the Equality Act 2010. Under the Act, you are considered to have the protected characteristic of disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal daily activities. 

The definition is broad and covers a range of physical disabilities, long term health conditions such as autoimmune disorders and cancer, mental health conditions and learning differences such as dyslexia. For more information on the definition of disability visit

5. What do you mean by ‘trans people’ as a target group for this programme?

In supporting trans people, this pilot follows the Equality Act. Gender reassignment is the legal term used in the Equality Act 2010 to broadly describe the protected characteristic of anyone who ‘proposes to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex’ (Equality Act, 2010). This is the protected characteristic that protects trans people from discrimination and harassment in employment, education and in using services. Importantly, the Equality Act requires no medical supervision or interventions for a trans person to be afforded protection.

6. I don’t have any board or committee experience; can I still apply?

Prior board experience is not required for this programme. Applicants will be expected to be enthusiastic about their own development, able to attend all parts of the programme, willing to engage in some self-directed learning and keen to explore the possibility of a board or committee position.

7. I already have board or committee experience; can I still apply?

The programme is designed to provide a development opportunity for those that want to explore the membership of committees and boards of research institutions, universities, and other organisations relevant to the sector. Individuals with substantial board or committee experience are not prevented from applying, however, the programme may provide a more valuable development experience for those with limited or no experience of being a formal member of a board.

8. How much time will need to be dedicated to the programme?

Participants are required to commit to a total of three full days of scheduled activity and to commit to an additional four days in total over the course of the year to engage fully in the suite of activities and the community.

9. What is the programme timeline and how will the programme be delivered?

The programme will begin with an Introductory Webinar on 23 October 2024, followed by four virtual half day sessions on 13 & 14 November and 27 & 28 November 2024. Activities including webinars, one-to-one coaching, board shadowing (both online and in person depending on the board’s practice) and mentoring will take place over the course of a year. The programme will conclude with an in-person event in October 2025. Applicants must be able to commit to all the programme dates.

10. Can I still apply for the programme if I cannot guarantee institution support?

At this time, we cannot accept applications without the necessary institutional support. However, if you wish to submit an application but do not know the correct person to contact in your institution, please get in touch with Advance HE at who can provide support to help applicants find an institutional champion.

In order to apply for the programme, you need to be employed by a higher education or research provider in the UK and currently be a researcher or in professional services in research.

11. What is the cost of attending the programme?

There is no cost to participants attending the 2024/2025 programme. Participants’ travel and subsistence expenses for the in-person concluding event and board shadowing will also be covered.

12. What is the role of an institutional champion?

Developing diverse talent is important, and it is recognised that sustainable change in behaviour and practice requires increased inclusion at a structural level, particularly in governance structures. For individuals to be successful we need to remove barriers previously hindering progress which cannot be done by a development programme in isolation. Advance HE and Wellcome are therefore requiring each participant is supported by an institutional champion.

Institutional champions will need to provide successful applicants with:

  • the time to attend and fully participate in the programme
  • the opportunity to shadow a board at their institution
  • a mentor (from within the institution) who can support their development

As part of the application process, institutional champions will also be required to answer a question on how they are going to make an active commitment to improve board diversity and inclusion at their institution. Both the institutional champion and mentor will need to commit to meeting with Advance HE at least twice to set intentions and discuss progress.

13. What is the role of a mentor?

The mentor should be an experienced person who can support the participants' development throughout the programme. Mentors should be well-established and knowledgeable members of the institution and will usually be more senior than the participant. Ideally, the mentor will have knowledge of and experience in governance either in higher education or a sector of interest to the participant. Mentors will be required to meet with Advance HE at the start of the programme to set intentions and discuss progress. On the institutional champion’s application form, you will also be asked to provide the name and contact details of a provisional mentor for the applicant. We appreciate that this may be subject to change, so if the applicant is successful, we will then contact you again to confirm the mentor information. 

14. Can the same person be both a mentor and institutional champion?

Yes, this is acceptable provided the individual has the capacity to support the participant in the role of both a mentor and institutional champion.

15. What do we mean by ‘shadow and observe a board’?

Each participant will be given at least two opportunities to shadow and observe boards in order to experience a board in action, understand the running order, dynamics and agenda items. Advance HE will support the matching of two external boards to participants during the programme.

16. What type of board would the programme be applicable for?

The programme aims to support participants to explore the membership of committees and boards of research institutions, universities, and other organisations relevant to the sector, such as charities, hospitals, funders and research organisations.

17. What does the coaching element of the programme involve?

Coaching takes the form of three planned one-to-one interactions between the participant and a professional coach, quality assured to work with Advance HE. Each participant will be introduced to their coach at the start of the programme and three sessions will be scheduled over the course of the programme.

18. How do I apply?

To make an application please submit a participant application form by noon (BST) on 16 September 2024.

You must also ensure that your institutional champion completes an application form by 2 September 2024. We can only process your application when we receive both participant’s and champion’s completed application forms.

We reserve the right to close the application portal early if we receive sufficient applications for the cohort. Therefore, if you are interested, please submit your application as early as possible.

If you require adjustments to this process, including if completing the form online is a barrier to you, please contact We can offer adjustments to this process such as accepting applications in video or audio format.

If you have any other questions about the application form or process, please contact

19. What does the application form include?

Applicants and their institutional champions must both complete the relevant application form using the same link. Forms can be completed separately and do not need to be submitted at the same time.

Information for applicants:

The application form will ask you for some personal information, including your name, institution, role, contact details and which underrepresented group(s) you belong to.

You will be asked to provide, in 500 words or less, details of why you think you are well suited to this programme and what you hope to achieve from it, including outlining the type(s) of boards you are interested in joining.

You will also be asked to outline, in 500 words or less, previous experience you have which could be relevant in a board context. You can include experience from both inside and outside the workplace in this question.

This year, applications will be assessed against an eligibility threshold that assesses applicants individually and accounts for personal context and experience, ensuring every candidate for selection could thrive if placed on the programme. You can check the information on eligibility in question 20. If successful in gaining a place on the programme, the information you supply in the application form will be shared with Advance HE to help them to shape the programme to the cohort’s needs and aspirations.

The application form must be completed in one sitting as there is no save and return function. Please ensure you have enough time to complete it before beginning your application. You may want to write your answers in advance, and then copy and paste them into the form.

Information for institutional champions:

The application form will ask you for your name, institution, role, and the name of the individual whose application you are supporting. You will be asked to write a short statement to confirm your commitment to supporting the applicant on the programme and to describe how you will make an active commitment to improve board diversity and inclusion at your institution. Please see question 12 for more information on the role of an institutional champion.

You will also be asked to provide the name and contact details of a provisional mentor for the applicant. We appreciate that this may be subject to change, so if the applicant is successful, we will then contact you again to confirm the mentor information. 

The application form must be completed in one sitting as there is no save and return function. Please ensure you have enough time to complete it before beginning your application. You may want to write your answers in advance, and then copy and paste them into the form.

20. How will participants be selected for the programme?

To be eligible, each applicant must belong to one or more of the protected groups which are targeted by this programme:           

  • Women
  • Trans people
  • Black, Asian and other ethnic minority groups
  • Disabled people (including those with long term health conditions)

In their application form, applicants will have provided:

  • A reason why they are well suited to this programme
  • Goals they hope to achieve by participating in the programme
  • Type(s) of board they are interested in joining
  • Examples of previous experience which could be relevant in a board context
  • Have identified an institutional champion who has also completed an application form and committed their support to their application.

Prior board experience is not required. Applicants will not be required to attend an interview.

As this programme is designed to be a positive action measure, we are required to adopt a  proportionate and evidence-based approach and places will therefore be allocated according to the extent of the under-representation amongst particular protected groups in governance roles relative to the sector and society at large.  We have therefore nominally allocated places per cohort as follows:

- Women – 5

- Trans people – 1

- Black, Asian and minority ethnic people – 2

- Disabled people – 2

We will review each application on its own merit and fill places with suitable applicants on a rolling basis. Once places allocated to any specific target group are filled we will hold other applicants in that group in reserve. We shall review the extent to which all places are filled on the closing date and where places are not filled by applicants to a particular protected group, we will allocate remaining places to other protected groups in order to fill the cohort and maximise the opportunity for eligible applicants to take part.

21. What is the closing date for applications?

Applications must be received from applicants by noon on 16 September and institutional champions by noon on 2 September 2024, however, as successful applicants will be allocated to places on a first come first served basis, we strongly encourage you to submit as soon as possible.

22. How many places are available on the programme?

10 places are available for each cohort. Our selection is based on a first-come, first-served basis of those successfully assessed.

In order to broaden the diversity of our cohort and maximise the impact of the programme, our intention is to have no more than one applicant per institution. The selection panel will review applications in each target protected group on a rolling-basis.

23. How will I be informed if I am accepted on the programme?

You will be informed about the outcome of your application via an email from

24. I have more questions about the programme, who should I contact?

For more information about the programme and application process, please contact