About us

Our story

WB Directors – Heritage

WB Directors, historically known as Women on Boards UK,  was founded in 2012, by Fiona Hathorn, Rachel Tranter and Rowena Ironside. The launch of this purpose driven company was enabled, empowered and supported by Claire Braund and Ruth Medd, the founders of Women on Boards in Australia. Women on Boards Australia started life formally as a social purpose company in 2006 but it really came out of a movement after the Sydney Olympic Games and was seeded by Claire Braund and others watching Cathy Freeman win GOLD running the 400m.

Women did particularly well at the Sydney Olympics, but there were very few women in leadership and board roles. Around that time Ruth Medd was having a coffee with Catherine Ordway, who happened to be an expert around anti-doping. Cathy is a lawyer who does a lot of consultation to the sports bodies. Together Ruth and Catherine decided they should do something about this.

Ruth at the time was on the board of the National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW), which still is still going strong. NFAW is a body that had been set up many years ago and was proactive in pushing the women’s agenda into government policy.

So, Women on Boards Australia was born, supported by a small grant received from the Australian government in about 2003. Women on Boards Australia started off as a nascent movement as a way to connect people through to board roles, a way to connect women to those who were on the radar, those who had the gift of putting them on the radar. Claire and Ruth therefore should take full credit for a lot of that early heavy lifting in regard to what was really needed if you want to shift the needle in regard to improving the diversity of boards in Australia and beyond. They were pioneers. Another pioneer in Australia at the time was Liz Broderick who became the Sex Discrimination Commissioner in 2007. So around the mid 2000’s there was quite a lot of movement down under. But the ASX, The Australian equivalent of the FTSE All Share was still largely very recalcitrant about the issue of moving women into board roles.

When Claire and Ruth started Women on Boards Australia there were 7 or 8% women on the ASX 200. There’s now plus 30%. They noted that none of the other sectors were being measured, community and public government boards, so they decided to do something about it.

In 2011 Claire Braund, who was undertaking some research in European board diversity under a Churchill Fellowship grant, met Fiona Hathorn who is now the CEO of WB Directors. Fiona was fascinated by how successful Women on Boards Australia had been in helping women consider boards as a career development strategy and how women could join community roles. Giving women and under-represented groups governance and leadership oversight experience which in turn would support their executive board careers and enable some them to join large listed boards if they wanted to.

The Birth of WB Directors in the UK

Having met Claire in 2011 Fiona Hathorn decided to launch Women on Boards UK and she found two other brave women to work with her, Rachel Tranter and Rowena Ironside.

Our collective agenda, with Women on Boards Australia, was always 40% women on boards and in leadership roles. We took the 40% number from the Norwegian quota law, which is a 40:40:20 quota law, which is 40% to men, 40% women, and 20% of any other gender. At the time Fiona, Rowena and Rachel decided to launch Women on Boards UK the FTSE 100 only had 12% women on their boards. Today the FTSE 100 has reached this target of 40% but there are still hardly any registered executive female FTSE 100 board directors, there are less than 10 female CEO’s and the Alternative Investment Markets (known as AIM listed companies) only has only around 16% women on boards (data collected in 2023).

Collecting Data

Lots of organisations collect data on boardroom diversity today but in 2006, when Women on Boards Australia started almost no one was doing it.

So, Women on Boards Australia set up the Boardroom Diversity Index in 2010, and, through a laborious process, started to track and measure the number of women on boards across a whole range of sectors. And they did not just focus on the ASX200. There’s currently around 1600 directors on the ASX200 but there’s university boards, there’s superannuation, there’s government, there are so many other sectors. There’s the start-up sector, the ASX space, there are subsidiaries, trusts, foundations, there are so many different areas where people can lend their expertise and talents and make an equal contribution.

And this is true in the UK too, which Claire pointed out to Fiona Hathorn when she first met her in 2011 on one cold winter night, the night she persuaded Fiona to find people to help her set up Women on Boards in the UK.

In the Australia the driving force around change was driven by Claire Braund, Ruth Medd and other fabulous women like Liz Broderick. But in the UK things were a little bit different. Change was driven by the European Union, threatening Quotas, and the UK Government’s moves to set up various pressure groups and reviews starting with The Lord Davies Review and now The FTSE Women Leaders Review.

However these important reviews in the UK and Europe, as per Australia, tended to only focused on large listed companies. There was almost no support for grass roots organisations, community boards and no support for younger and mid career individuals who might want to join boards community boards. This is where WB Directors, formally Women on Boards UK, comes in. We don’t mind what level of board you are interested in we will support you regardless.

The upshot is there’s still work to be done to achieve 40% gender balance, at both the executive and board level.

In the UK, like in Australia, we do our own research which we call Hidden Talent (information link). The fact is that whilst we have achieved gender balance and 1 ethnic minority NED on nearly all FTSE 100 boards we have not moved the dial at the AIM level (Alternative Investment Market) which is a good proxy for the private sector. Additionally women and minorities individuals still struggle to raise capital for start-up companies and there are very few female or ethnic minority angel seed capital investors. And the VCT and Private Equity industry still remains dominated by men from elite educational backgrounds.

As Claire and Ruth have always said, all we were trying to do was to say to companies:

“Turn off the spotlight and turn on the floodlight. Because if you turn off the spotlight where you only see people you know, people that you know who others know, and you actually turn on the floodlight, you can see people who can lay equal claim to any role sitting at the edge of that circle.”

WB Directors in the UK – What we do

Our input is valuable and accessible to professionals from all genders and backgrounds to drive their career forward, and our interventions and developmental support resonate particularly with women and
underrepresented groups. We equip leaders at any level with the skills and perspective to ensure an inclusive culture is a lived reality.

Our on-going support via our boards and career network is what really sets us apart.

We foster close peer connections between professionals and provide a ‘safe space’ of encouragement to inspire their continued progression. After a decade, it is now wonderful to see some long-standing members flourishing in their careers and sitting on boards.

As an organisation we have been successful in shining a light on all of those people sitting below the C-Suite, who didn’t know enough people to get on the radar of those who were doing the appointments, but who actually could add enormous value to companies and boards, community and listed boards.

Whilst today we are an independent organisation from Women on Boards Australia, we own them a lot in regard to appreciating and understanding what works and what does not if you want to empower all.

WB Directors in the UK, like Women on Boards Australia, is an action-oriented organisation with a proud history of supporting women, and men, to leverage their professional skills and experience into leadership and non-executive-director roles. We support men because it is inclusive to do so and the fact that there is nothing gender or minority specific about the boardroom, it is just that boards (and top executive level positions) have been dominated by men historically.

WB Directors Purpose

Our purpose is clear;

  • We are a purpose-led business working to increase diversity in executive and non-executive leadership
  • We specialise in the ‘extra’ underrepresented groups need to get ahead. However we proudly support men too because this is what inclusion and equality is all about
  • We focus our efforts on being in our members corner, if you ask us for support.

Our aim is to support individuals being aware of good leadership and governance. Whilst we do talk to the people we meet about the boardroom we also support them evaluating their options and career choices.

WB is a very different and unique organisation because we specialise in the ‘extra’ to get you over the line when applying for promotions and boards. There are many organisations today that support people develop their careers and or join boards, but there is no organisation that is as influential as WB Directors given our boards/career network.

We support both individual members and also the individuals who we meet via their corporate partnerships (information link). Additionally we also work on both board and career development because we want shift the needle in regard the C-Suite and senior management roles too.

WB Directors’ is a leader in providing training and advice on how to access actively own and manage careers, obtain board roles and lead change and our success in measurable in the fact that we have;

  • Enabled over 3500 individuals that we know about join a board, we currently have 1 success story a day
  • We have advertised for FREE over 35,000 board roles
  • We have taken over 6000 support 1 to 1 calls at the point of need/interview
  • We have engaged over 10,000 individuals who have attended our in-house or member workshops and empowered many more via our community outreach talks.

Our Values

Our Values are clear;

  • We are Practical
    • Dealing with the world as it is, whilst driving the change we want to see
    • Sharing actionable insights, drawn from lived experience, across our network and in our training, combined with lessons from robust research into what works
    • Our trainers and delivery team have been senior leaders and/or are board members
  • Inclusive
    • We strive to be meaningfully inclusive
    • We reach for conscious inclusion across the whole of our organisation, and in our external communications
    • Reflected in our hybrid delivery models, our pricing and our range of services (whilst succeeding as a small business).
  • Open
    • We are ‘on your side’ and support all genders to reach their goals, aligned with our purpose
    • Our network of non-executive directors is predominantly female. It is highly intersectional (demographically and professionally) and welcomes all, including men
    • Our leadership work targets all equally, recognising that collaborative, inclusive leadership must not be limited to, or closed off from, any demographic.
  • Impactful
    • What we do works. We take pride in tracing our impact, across the short and long-term. Data matters and we collect and report on it
    • We are laser-focused on our members’ and clients’ success, and derive joy from celebrating it
    • We refine and innovate to offer new solutions to evolve our offer, ensuring we remain creative and curious in a changing world.

We don’t keep anything secret and genuinely try to help people get on in life and on to boards, if they are interested. There are other ways to succeed in life we know. We don’t expect everyone to want to join a listed or community board but we do want to empower people with the information they need to make good career and life choices.

We are not a private network. We are open and transparent to all.

What we do works

We make a difference, we are proud of what we have achieved over the last 10+ years.

For more information on ‘Our Story’ and our Board, click on this link => https://wbdirectors.co.uk/who-we-are/

For more information on ‘Corporate Team’, click on this link => https://wbdirectors.co.uk/our-corporate-presenter-team/

"Women on Boards is an invaluable resource for women's success and well-being. Their diverse range of services and individual support create a dynamic environment for members to thrive."