Women on boards

audreybirtAudrey Birt has extensive experience of leading organisations as well as working with leaders and top teams as a coach and consultant. She is particularly valued for her work developing authentic leaders as well as in service improvement and person centred health and care.

I admit to a rather conflicted position on this subject. Just over a year ago now I left my executive director position with Breakthrough Breast Cancer to set up on my own as an Independent Coach and Consultant, with a particular interest in authentic leaders and organisations as well as a deep passion for improving health and social care. So far so good. I sought a portfolio career which allowed me to focus on the things I am passionate about, and that’s what I’m delighted to be doing. I’m on three boards, one of which I chair. I find this hugely satisfying work where I’m contributing to the organisations impact and effectiveness and I’m rightly proud of that.

Where’s the conflict in that I hear you ask? It’s voluntary work you see and as such I’m wondering if you think that still counts. Sadly for my bank balance it’s not the kind of non- executive position that carries a tidy recompense or an expense account. It does use my skills and experience however and provides both challenge and interest, broadens my network and perspective and satisfies that part of me that loves meeting and working with new people. But its not my day job really, even if it enhances it. As someone whose career has partly been in the voluntary sector it’s no coincidence that’s where I want to give my own time. I’m delighted I can bring my leadership, coaching and consultancy experience to charities on their boards because frankly if they relied on my baking to help them, they would be in trouble!

I love my work as a coach and consultant and I haven’t been seeking paid board work because whenever I think of it my heart just doesn’t sing. You see I tend to think of the board room not as a room I want to be part of but rather as a very traditional hierarchical institutional function where mostly men in grey suits follow repetitive predetermined agendas, pontificate, chase decisions around the table and make often uninformed and non-inclusive decisions. I’m reluctant to invest my precious time in that approach, which I fear no longer serves our time and keeps decision making in the hands of the few.

Now of course in principle I want to see more women in board rooms making decisions and I even believe in quotas to enable that. Unless we have something like quotas the existing paradigm will inevitably recreate itself. BUT I realise I want more than that. I want women’s involvement not just to improve diversity and equitable representation of the workforce and community but to enable fresh ways of working. I want women on boards (and men too) to lead the way on more distributive leadership, as leaders who listen not tell, as leaders who enable the potential in all their workforce not just the fortunate few at the top. I want leaders who seek self-awareness rather than power. My experience is that plays to the strengths women often bring and the female leaders of today have a responsibility to leaders of both sexes to promote this kind of leadership in all for future generations.

Now that makes my heart sing…

Audrey Birt is a member of the3rdimagazine. You can learn more about Audrey here.

1 Comment on Women on boards

  1. Anne Casey // March 5, 2014 at 8:10 pm // Reply

    Good to have a different perspective Audrey and to remind us all that while paid board work is useful for many, it is not what it is all about.

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