I recently had a telephone call from a friend who’s the Chief Executive of a small but national charity. She was desperately looking to recruit a new Treasurer for her Board and was very keen to use the opportunity to increase the diversity of her Board by attracting applications from BAME candidates. She had used the usual recruitment channels, but they had only yielded the same types of people; recently retired, mainly men and…exclusively white. She was not criticising the experience, knowledge or commitment of those who were expressing an interest, but she just wanted to attract a wider group of candidates! She rang me to ask whether I had any ideas about how she could bring her vacancy to a wider, more diverse audience. During our discussion, I suggested that perhaps she might look to bring her vacancy directly to the attention of BAME staff in the NHS by contacting a few Trusts and asking them to share the vacancy amongst their middle managers.
Having coached and mentored a number of ambitious BAME middle managers who all wanted to understand what they needed to do to develop and advance their careers, I had suggested to a few that joining the Board of a charity would provide them with exposure to high level organisational strategy development, the opportunity to build their confidence by engaging in ‘top table’ debate and discussion, having their voices heard and seeing how CEOs and Directors operate and conduct themselves. Taking part in Board Away Days, attending Charity events and conferences would provide great opportunities to learn, think strategically, build networks and help them prepare for their next career move up. I know that many large corporates actively encourage their senior managers to join Boards, so why not the NHS?
Sharing these thoughts reminded me of why in 1989, while working for a north London local authority, and living in Hertfordshire with a young family, I applied to join the Board of a small south London housing association. This was of course pre Congestion Charge and I recall crawling through London’s rush hour traffic after work to attend Board meetings that went on long into the evening. But I was ambitious and wanted to extend my thinking beyond the boundaries of a local authority. Within a year of joining the Board we decided to seek a merger with a much larger housing association and I was asked to join the small group overseeing the merger and working through the legal, financial and operational issues. The merger went through and as part of the ‘deal’, the larger housing association agreed to a small number of Board members from the joining association sitting on their Board, and I was invited to take up one of the places. I remained on that Board for over 8 years, sat on a number of Committees and even chaired a Committee. I learnt so much from that experience, but I also know that I brought a lot to the Board. Joining that Board gave me my first taste of being mentored as one of the most experienced Board members took me under his wing. It led to me wanting to extend my experience and my contribution further and over the last 30+ years, I’ve sat on the Boards of NHS Trusts, universities, housing associations, charities and sporting National Governing Bodies. I’m now the Chair of an NHS Hospital Trust.
I’m absolutely convinced that my executive career would not have developed the way it did, leading to over 25 years working at Chief Executive level without the experience I gained as a Board member. It’s arguable that that I would not have been appointed as an NHS Trust Chair without that experience. Yes, it was hard work and sometimes very challenging, but it was hugely rewarding because I felt that I was making a difference and contributing to improving people’s lives. It was even fun at times. I learnt so much. An example was sitting on the Board of a charity set up to support black people living with HIV/AIDs at a time when I knew little about the virus, condition and its impact.
So, if you’re an ambitious BAME middle or senior manager, looking to develop your career over the next few years, why not think about joining the Board of a Charity or ‘Not for Profit’ organisation. You’ll be helping them, but it will also help you. If you’re tempted now, I know a national Charity looking for a Treasurer!