Trustees Unlimited chair Helen Simpson relates how board-level volunteering organization Step on Board is helping fast-track women into leadership positions in their own companies
Volunteering benefits people in many ways – statistics tell us it makes us happier, more fulfilled and it can help us develop new skills, connections and friendships.
I have enjoyed a busy professional career in the corporate world, but throughout it I have volunteered as a trustee in the charity sector and experienced the benefits of board-level volunteering.
I became a trustee early in my career. When I worked for BP, staff were encouraged to take charge of their professional development and I decided to get involved in the charitable sector by becoming a trustee.
The experience broadened my skills and knowledge and enabled me to see how an organization operates in a strategic context, which developed my strategic business skills. I made new contacts and networks and I am still learning today through my trustee positions.
Trusteeship offers a unique opportunity for people to understand how a board is run and governed
In my view, trusteeship offers a unique opportunity for people to understand how a board is run and governed – skills that can help accelerate their professional development. It can be a great way for employers to develop and fast-track female talent.
Earlier this year, figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) highlighted that FTSE 100 companies are on track to reach their target of having a third of board positions filled by women by 2020. There are currently 309 women on FTSE 100 boards, up from 12.5% in 2011 to 28.7%.
While progress has been clearly made on gender equality at board level in those companies, there is still a lot of work to do. The representation of women on boards outside the FTSE 100 is lower, and gender pay reporting figures published in April revealed men are paid more than women in eight out of 10 firms.
While trusteeship clearly can’t solve these complex issues, it can give women board-level experience earlier on in their careers, which in turn could aid their progression.
Those who become trustees early on in their careers will develop their strategic skills and gain confidence
We have placed our 200th trustee through the programme: Hina Patel, a strategic project manager from investment firm BlackRock, has joined the board of children’s charity Starlight.
Hina was first introduced to Step on Board through a women’s network initiative at BlackRock, which is focused on getting more women onto boards.
Step on Board connects professional people with charities and organizations with a social or environmental mission that need their professional skills. Barclays, BlackRock, British Land, Credit Suisse, EY, Google, law firm Mishcon de Reya and PA Consulting are amongst the companies who have adopted Step on Board.
When we first launched the programme in 2014, most companies offered it to their senior executives and leaders, but today we are seeing more companies adopting it to develop future leaders as part of their succession planning.
As I found, those who become trustees early on in their careers will develop their strategic skills and gain confidence in contributing and participating at board level and expressing their opinions. Trusteeship taught me how to act as a critical friend and question things that may need changing in a positive way – skills I have found to be invaluable in the corporate world.
I am constantly learning and developing new skills that benefit the charities I work with and my business
It also provides the chance for people to use their existing skills to engage with organizations that are trying to make a difference and change peoples’ lives for the better.
Allison Watson, head of EMEA business and operations staffing at Google, recently completed the Step on Board programme and has joined the board of Working Chance, a charity that recruits women leaving the criminal justice and care system.
Allison has loved the fact she is using the skills she acquired at Google to help the charity improve its digital strategy. She has introduced Working Chance to the Google Foundation and the charity is currently submitting a proposal to the tech firm to set up a digital hub to give women the skills they need to re-enter the workforce.
Another female executive who completed the programme is media lawyer Dina Shiloh, a partner at Gallant Maxwell. She is now a trustee at the Microloan Foundation, a charity that helps women in sub-Saharan Africa break the cycle of poverty by providing loans training and support to help them set up their own business.
Dina would recommend Step on Board, especially to younger people, as she believes it provides a solid introduction and understanding of the requirements of the role a trustee will play. She told me that she didn’t know of any other way that people in their early 30s can gain board experience so early on in their careers.
I agree. I am currently a trustee of the BBC Radio 4 St Martin-in-the-Fields Charity and my charity work still sits alongside my corporate career, which means I am constantly learning and developing new skills that benefit the charities I work with and my business.
Helen Simpson is head of the consultancy Simpson & Associates and chair of Trustees Unlimited.