Could you make the move?

‘Going portfolio’ is an appealing option for many as part of their overall career path. Whilst professionals at all levels can opt to balance a range of roles and projects for a range of reasons, the appeal for senior leaders lies often in the prospect of having greater flexibility, variety and impact. 

Women on Boards supports many of our members in establishing portfolios based around non-executive directorships. It is a path that requires resilience and self-motivation but can ultimately be extremely rewarding. Here we share some of the pros and cons …

What is a portfolio career?

Many Women on Boards members build portfolio careers around non-executive positions. These are typically on boards across different industries or sectors, and can combine paid and unpaid board roles. 

Senior professionals may opt to broaden their portfolio with consultancy or training in their field of expertise and/or coaching and mentoring work for emerging leaders. Some also take the opportunity to pursue a passion project or take their hobby to the next level.  

A range of between 3- 6 roles or projects is not uncommon at any one time. 

What are the benefits?

  • Enhanced Flexibility

One of the standout benefits of a portfolio career is the increased flexibility it offers you.  Whilst formal board meetings are set at fixed times, the preparation and more informal work involved in a non-executive directorship can be managed more flexibly. The move to remote collaboration also brings more flexibility in location, allowing for increased travelling and/or dual location lifestyles, although some in-person presence is required by most boards.

You are also more in control of the volume of work you are committed to, being able to limit the number of boards and/or consultancy (or other) projects you take on. 

  • Greater variety of experience 

As a senior professional, you may have spent years (or decades!) in one industry or even one firm. A portfolio career gives you the opportunity to take your transferable skills to new sectors, which in return can offer fresh learnings and insights into different types of organisation.

As board roles are usually offered in ‘terms’ of 3 years, you may also choose to refresh your portfolio regularly. However, multiple terms are common and it’s amazing how fast three years can go by! 

  • Heightened strategic influence 

As a non-executive, or consultant, your work will be focused at the strategic level. This gives a more sophisticated level of professional challenge and also a greater scope for influence at scale. Your focus is also likely to include today’s cutting-edge issues: integrating ESG goals, introducing AI into operations and developing inclusive cultures in a hybrid context are common concerns for boards of all types. 

For some, removing yourself from the day-to-day implementation as a non-executive can feel uncomfortable, but for others it is very much a benefit.

  • Broader network

Strong boards are composed of individuals from a range of personal and professional backgrounds to ensure diversity of thought in their decision-making. Working alongside fellow board members will bring you into contact with a range of different professionals, greatly enhancing your network. 

It is also important to develop your personal network of support, for general camaraderie and as inevitable challenges arise. Women on Boards prioritises fostering strong connections between our members in a warm, supportive atmosphere through our regular virtual and in-person networking, more formalised Peer Support Groups and our ‘Ask a Director’ service for experienced members.

What are the considerations?

Like any major career move, a shift to a portfolio career should not be taken lightly. Planning, realism and persistence are key to establishing yourself successfully. 

  • Staying current

Removing yourself from day-to-day implementation can also mean that your knowledge and skills date relatively quickly. You will need to develop a proactive plan to keep learning and stay abreast of developments in your specialist area and more broadly.

  • Financial reality 

Whilst your income streams will be diversified, you will need to consider that establishing yourself as non-executive usually takes time. Pursuing some more short-term consultancy projects and, ideally, having a financial buffer in place can help smooth the transition.

  • Getting out of the starting blocks

 Non-executive roles are competitive, many highly so, especially for first-time board members. You will need to stand out against more experienced candidates and the well-recognised ‘experience trap’ still exists in many boards.

Women on Boards is long experienced in helping candidates position themselves as ‘board ready’, even without direct experience. Whilst rejection is part of the journey for most, our members can and do build the board portfolios they aspire to. 

Further support and resources

If you are looking to build a portfolio, consider one of our great value packages to set up you for success – whether you are ‘Starting Out’ or ‘Stepping Up’.

Access practical advice and experience in our Resource Centre (available with Digital Membership, costing just £20 a year)

If you are already managing a NED portfolio, consider our Directors’ Circle membership to connect with your peers.