The boardroom revolution is underway

26 Apr 2019 Nick Garbutt    Last updated: 29 Apr 2019

Lisa McGonigle and Ryan Hyland

Boards in Northern Ireland are dominated by middle aged and older people. Most of them are middle class men from a managerial background.

Almost all boards say they want more diverse leadership, and the majority do. Yet whenever they come to make appointments nothing seems to change.

Governance expert Eileen Mullan was so concerned about this that she decided to do something about it. “We have a diverse society and the more perspectives we can bring to bear on decision-making, the better those decisions will be,” she says. “And yet I found it so frustrating that whilst organisations want more diversity there was no help provided to support and encourage people from different backgrounds to join boards.”

That’s why she set up Boardroom Apprentice, a spare time project. It is designed for anyone from any background aged 16 or over who has never been on a board, would like to be, but is just not too sure if it’s for them.

Boardroom Apprentice is open for applicants on 29 April. Those selected will get 12 months experience on a public sector or third sector board, together with training to improve their knowledge and understanding. They will also have access to a “board buddy” as well as support and encouragement from their fellow apprentices.

When she started the scheme she was got solid support with 24 organisations offering placements on their boards. This year 49 are taking part. They represent a broad range of public and third sector bodies and include the Department of Finance, the Patient and Client Council the Ulster Orchestra, the Playhouse in Derry the Northern Ireland Hospice and Groundwork NI.

Applicants will be matched with a suitable board based on their interests, concerns and passions.

Eileen said: “We don’t want to produce directors who just sit on a board. That’s not good for them or the organisation. It is important that people really connect with the organisation. This needs to be a pleasure, not a chore. We want people on boards who are passionate about the organisation they help to lead and are prepared to give, not take.”

Two graduates of the scheme are Lisa McGonigle from Greysteel and Ryan Hyland from West Belfast. They are typical of a new generation of directors, helping to improve the boards they serve on.

Lisa, who has three young children, is an experienced marketing professional who has worked in technology and is passionate about encouraging more women into technological industries.

Her apprenticeship was with the North West College Board where she could represent women in technology. She has sat both on the general committee and the education committee. Lisa has thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “They were so welcoming from day one and I have felt comfortable in respectfully contributing. I feel I am open minded and calm and can help make educated decisions. And as a  mother, I can offer a fresh pair of eyes.”

She has got so much out of the experience that she has attended a workshop on public appointments so that she understands the process better. She would like to apply to be a permanent member of the board once a Minister is back in place to sanction new appointments.

Ryan Hyland works as an energy trade analyst, forecasting electricity prices. He’s 27, is of mixed race and lives in West Belfast.

He said that he had noticed ads for board members which stated they were interested in younger people and those from different ethnic backgrounds. He was interested but felt he did not have the knowledge and experience, which is why he signed up for the programme.

He was matched with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, where he was also welcomed and not only attended board meetings but was also invited to several events.

After he had completed his apprenticeship he noticed that the Ardmonagh Family and Community Group were advertising for a trustee.

He had been at Ardmonagh’s nursery as a young boy and comes from the same area, so there was a strong personal connection. He applied, was appointed and is now giving something back to an organisation that had helped him as a child.

He said: “People who want to be on boards should find something that is close to you personally. Take yourself out of your comfort zone. Boards  like to see new people and welcome new perspectives. I work in the private sector so feel I can offer something from that, different perspective to the charity.”

Eileen added: “A final point is that many boards meet during the working day. It is important that employers fully recognise the benefits of having staff involved in them. It exposes them to experience of strategy and of leadership and can only be good for employers as well.”

Boardroom Apprentice  will be open for recruitment on Monday 29th April and will close on Monday 20th May at 4:00pm. Full details will be available here as soon as recruitment starts.

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