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Addressing the gender balance in HE governance

18 Apr 2019 | Advance HE Ahead of Step onto the Board, a new Advance HE workshop supporting women to achieve board appointments in the higher education sector, we take a look at how to secure that coveted board appointment.

Successful culture change begins at the top of an organisation, and while the gender balance within these roles is now starting to be addressed, there is still some way to go. 

Women leaders make a significant contribution to the HE sector and Advance HE is committed to addressing and improving gender balance at a leadership level, including breaking down the barriers for women to enter the boardroom.

We must continue our focus on gender and look at the true diversity of those leading our businesses ... we need leaders who come from a wide range of backgrounds, each bringing different skills and views to the table, creating boardrooms that truly mirror our society. Without these different outlooks and diversity of skills and experiences, our businesses will simply not thrive in this fast paced changing competitive world.

Melanie Richards, Vice Chairman, KPMG in the UK, Women on Boards Davies Review 5-year Summary

Five Top Tips for securing a board appointment 

1.    Establish your network 

With over 50% of board appointments in higher education being filled outside of public advert it is important to get on the radar of boards you are interested in joining, even if they are not proactively advertising a vacancy. Never underestimate the power of networking and being proactive in making connections, it may lead you to opportunities in your career and in the boardroom.  

Top tip: build a shortlist target of a few of the boards of charities, corporates or universities you are interested in joining and write to the Company Secretary outlining what you will bring. (This info is usually available as part of Report and Accounts on their website) 

2.    Build a concise and targeted CV 

Distil your CV into a 2-3-page summary of your experience and transferable skills. Be targeted by including material relevant to the organisation and ruthless in cutting superfluous content. 

Top tip: use LinkedIn to promote your skills and experience so that recruiters and search firms can easily identify you. Run it by a couple of your Champions – a work colleague, mentor or family member.

3.    Do your research

Learn as much as possible about the organisation, including its values, mission, priorities and organisational challenges. Use as many sources as you can find – the strategy, accounts, published minutes from previous meetings, news articles and its webpage.

Top tip: include in your research the LinkedIn profiles of the Chair and existing board members. Not only will this help you to prepare for the interview, it will also help you to decide if the organisation is right for you and identify any risks. 

4.    Be brave

Think of how you can bring all your skills and abilities to make a difference and add value to that organisation. Push yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. Be tenacious and confident in your abilities. View unsuccessful applications not as failures but as opportunities to learn and develop.

Top tip: be clear about your own “story” brand and leadership purpose as a potential board member – grab an opportunity to work with a coach on this. Have a go at the freebie version of How to Fascinate to find out about your impact on others. 

5.    Do something you love

Sitting on a board is a perfect opportunity to use your skills in a new context, but it does require time and energy so it is important to contribute to an organisation or cause you are passionate about. Pick organisations which share your values and priorities and where you feel you can make a real difference.

Top tip: once you have made up your mind and applied - and when you got your first board appointment - let everyone know with pride. Update your LinkedIn profile and CV to show it off and tell colleagues to help manage expectations for your availability and your need for their support.

View our Slideshare Addressing the gender balance in higher education governance with all of this information and more including helpful web resources. 


Read more information about Step onto the Board, a new Advance HE workshop for women who are considering seeking a governor role on 11 June 2019 in London. 


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