Joining a Trustee Board …reflections from the first year

I tend to blog about other people’s opinions, or events I’ve attended but rarely about myself.  I thought I might break that habit briefly as last Friday marked 12 months since I was voted on to the Board of a charity as a Trustee – the charity equivalent to a Non-Executive Director.  The world of Boards was a bit of a mystery to me before I joined one and so I thought that might also be the case for others out there.  I thought therefore that scribbling a few reflections from the first year might be of interest to a few people, so here goes…

Getting there…

Once I’d decided that I wanted to get some board experience I started by asking for help. I was given some great advice about talking to ‘Women on Boards’.  They’re a charity who work with aspiring non-exec Directors/ Trustees to support the transition to a board role.  Their Board-level CV workshop was a great chance to work out where my skill gaps were and how to transfer that ‘work CV’ into a Board-ready one.  If you’re even considering a NED/ Trustee role I’d really recommend attending one of their workshops or checking out their online content.

So long story short, I found a role I was interested in, applied and was delighted to be offered the role.

Getting stuck in…

I’m lucky that my Board offered an induction day for new Trustees.  This was a great opportunity to meet a few faces and get a sense of some of the challenges and opportunities that the Board was reviewing.  If you’re applying for this type of role I’d certainly ask the question about inductions at interview – it was a great introduction to the organisation.

Getting something back…

You get out what you put in.  How many times have we heard that?  Except in this case I think I’ve got more back, but for me it was important to remember to think about how I was developing.  I had some specific development objectives that were the reason for joining a board.  It was important to keep those in mind and keep pushing myself to focus on those.  It’s easy to get lost in the detail of the discussions but I’ve found keeping one eye on my development throughout has been helpful.

Some of the key things I’ve learnt are probably fairly transferable from executive roles but here’s a quick run down…

  • Thinking strategically is difficult for boards too sometimes – not just ex-operational managers like me.
  • A lot is done outside of the boardroom, that’s not particularly different to executive environments but is more challenging to keep up to speed when it’s not your day job.
  • Join panels/ sub-committees, often that’s where the ‘work’ is done and the Trustee Board is ratification.
  • Focus on Continuing Professional Development – just turning up isn’t enough.  WoB ran a useful ‘Interpreting Boardroom finances’ webinar which hit the spot for me.
  • Patience is a virtue! Consider the long game; strategies take time and organisations take time to change.  I joined a board at a time of real transition for the organisation, it is really exciting but takes time to see change bear fruit.  Having patience has been a test.
  • Trust and empower the executive and stay out of the detail.  It’s natural to want to get involved and support – I’ve had to work hard to bear in mind that’s not the role of the Board. 
  • If you do want to get involved with the detail then find a particular outlet.  I found it helpful to get specifically involved with something tactical outside of my Board role with the executive.
  • Spend time listening and watching how more experienced members of the board operate.  For me it’s not always about being part of every discussion, it’s back to thinking about the long game again.
  • Enjoy the experience!  I know I’m not always going to get it right – I’ve learnt much more when I haven’t!
  • Your ideas will be listened to and in my experience people often value your skills more than you do yourself.

If you’re thinking about joining a board, start those conversations right now.  It might take time to find a good fit or the right opportunity but I found the process of getting myself ready really rewarding and insightful in itself. 

I passionately believe that organisations perform better when they’re diverse and they represent the communities that they serve. I think we’re seeing that boards are more receptive than ever to bringing on members that might not fit their previous mould. For me, the best way to change an organisation is from the inside and so if you want to see your demographic – whatever that is – represented – be that change – get on the Board!

The future of sludge…research meets reality

I spent a couple of days last week at Sludgetech 2016 – a relatively new conference aimed at providing opportunities to researchers and the ‘younger end’ of the wastewater world to share their ideas with the wider industry.  I was expecting to come away with my horizons broadened and a few new ideas in my brain – I actually came away utterly inspired!  Not a word I use lightly so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on why I think Sludgetech is making a difference in the industry.

I’m not a technical expert when it comes to sludge but I do understand how it fits into the bigger picture – and that’s the gap that this conference began to bridge.  Sludge or ‘bioresources’ as OFWAT are now defining it – has shot to the top of the pile of ‘things that interest C-suite executives’.  I would imagine that the majority of Board Directors in water companies might have struggled to tell you much about sludge 2/3 years ago – but ask them about it now and I’m pretty sure they’d be able to wax lyrical.  The recent OFWAT Water2020 Markets Consultation has forced companies to recognise the potential value in bioresources and crucially to understand the true cost of treatment.

Sludge being a ‘bioresource’ isn’t news to the technical experts, but what Sludgetech made me realise is just how much ‘resource’ there really is.  We heard about how to recover high value precious metals through to the critically limited phosphate.  We learnt about starbons and how microwave technology could treat sludge (have you ever thought about why your microwave is always small?  Microwaves can only get through 80cm of ‘stuff’ before they’re ineffective.)  We heard fantastic papers about E.Coli and why we still don’t fully understand what’s really happening inside our digesters.  We considered the challenging regulations surrounding bioresources and co-digestion with food waste and as you might expect, Brexit was mentioned a few times when considering how much shaping of our environmental practice European Directives have had over the last 30 years.

What I really took away from the conference however was how much passion and potential is out there.  There are some forward thinking companies sponsoring PhD’s and organisations like UK Water Partnership who are trying to bring ideas together and share knowledge.  Everyone was driving for the same over-riding aim – how do we get the best overall environmental benefit from this precious resource – and given some of the environmental pressures, how do we do that as quickly as possible?

I came away from Sludgetech 2016 feeling optimistic about the future for bioresources and most importantly impressed by the passion of the people driving the industry forward.

Gender equality – just a women’s issue? A review of the 2016 Women of the World Festival

I wonder if you’re a man who’s reading this? I’m wondering because I’ve spent this weekend at the Women of the World Festival at London’s Southbank Centre. Of the thousands of people who walked through the doors of the 5 day festival, my experience is that the majority of them were women and girls.  Given that gender equality should be a positive step forward for everyone, why are so many men not tempted to participate in the conversation?

What I will say is that for the men that did decide to ‘be brave’ and come along, they were treated like heroes!  If you fancy feeling appreciated, this is the place to be chaps!

I’m so interested in this topic following on from last year’s event where I observed something similar.  My reflections then are similar to now – how can we change the world if we’re only engaging with half of it?

One of the Saturday sessions that I really enjoyed was ‘the men of WOW’ – a discussion lead by Michael Kimmel, one of the world’s leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity.  We talked about why gender equality is a win-win for everybody, how men can be more than allies in feminism and how to confront sexism when you hear it.  With a panel including Michael, comedian Jake Mills and actor/ writer Charlie Condou in 60 minutes we covered a lot of ground; how do men respond to the word ‘feminist’, the barriers to equality, how is gender equality practically better for men, should men and women be equal and the differences between being a ‘good man’ and a ‘real man’.  I could write a whole piece on what I heard – I may in the future – and I’d love to hear any thoughts from the chaps out there on some of these issues.  Let me leave this topic with one of the questions Michael asked the men in the room…”would you trade places with a woman?” If the answer is “no”, then you probably already know we’ve got more to do.

Aside from more serious conversations about gender equality, the festival is an amazing opportunity to broaden your horizons, meet new people and learn all sorts of new things.  I found myself in a ‘WOW Bites’ workshop on Saturday afternoon.  In 60 minutes we covered how moon cups are changing lives in Kenyan slums (www.thecupeffect.org), what makes a song beautiful (@matshidisomusic) and basic self defence from Pauliina Ståhlberg, a Finnish black belt.

There’s always time to talk toilets…

I also went along to ‘toilets are a feminist issue’, hosted by Helen Lewis, the deputy editor of the New Statesman.  Did you know that the reason there aren’t enough loos for ladies dates back to the 1875 Public Health Act?!  One of my favourite quotes from the session came from Prof Clara Greed – an expert in urban design – “most public toilets are designed by front facing urinators” – which explains why there’s often not a lot of room to swing a cat in the cubicles.  Interesting that Prof Greed’s view is that better public toilet provision would encourage more people to use public transport and is a way of getting people out of cars.  She left us asking ourselves – why do women accept having to queue for the loo?

At the end of the day

The final session of the day was a conversation between Jude Kelly, the extraordinary founder and festival director of WOW and Pat Mitchell, curator of the TEDWomen Conference and founder of the Makers (makers.com) initiative.  They discussed how our cultural reference points – the plays or books we read at school, the most famous paintings are often created by men and are about men.  The Makers initiative is about levelling that playing field and ensuring there are stories by women and about women too.  My take away from this session was “you can’t be what you can’t see” – so how do we ensure we all see positive examples of both women and men, girls and boys excelling in their chosen fields?

Coming to a town near you…

As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of the WOW Festival.  I always come away feeling inspired and energised and I’m grateful that I can get to London for a weekend to enjoy it.  After last year’s festival I was really keen to see how we could enable people to experience WOW a little nearer to home.  I’m delighted that WOW is coming to Bradford in late 2016!  If you want to get involved or hear a little more then get in touch.  You can follow @WOW_Bradford on twitter to find out more and get festival updates.  It’s going to be a great opportunity to sample a bit of the WOW Experience with a Bradford flavour – and I’m really confident that everyone will feel welcome!

As ever I’d love to hear your comments below/ drop me a line.  I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the festival…

“Don’t accept what you can’t change, change what you can’t accept”

Useful links

The WOW Festival – wow.southbankcentre.co.uk

on Twitter – @WOWTweetUK & #WOWLDN