Brigid Whoriskey

Board member, Scottish Legal Aid Board; Vice Chair, Causeway: Ireland-Scotland Business Exchange; Trustee at Tong-Len UK

You can listen to Brigid’s story in full on podcast here or search ‘Women on Boards Success Stories’ in all major apps:

What you can learn from my experiences building a NED portfolio…. 

Here Brigid shares her key lessons from establishing her NED portfolio:

Find your purpose

“After long stint in the banking sector, I took stock of my career and life. I had a board role with an international charity, supporting slum families in India. It fed my soul, so I didn’t even consider it work. So I started building a new career focusing on non-executive roles like my charity trustee work, combined with executive coaching, mentoring and advice.

Put time into really figuring out what you want to do. What work makes your heart sing? If you find your true purpose, the rest of the journey is so much easier, and your authenticity will shine out.”

Don’t go into detail on what you’ve done, focus on the ‘so what?’

“I knew digital experience was hugely in demand, so even though I’m not a tech person, I’d be missing a trick if I didn’t major on my experience leading digital programmes and teams. I used to go into lots of detail on the programmes I led, the scouting for innovation in silicon valley and my experience in areas such as cyber security, big data, AI, blockchain, integrating legacy systems – I could go on!

Then in preparing for a Women on Boards ‘Meet the Headhunters’ session, I realised I couldn’t squeeze all that into a 30 second elevator pitch. It made me reframe and focus on what all the experience meant. When I described how I can translate complex technical concepts into board-speak, how I know the gaps to look for in a digital project plan, that I understand which questions to ask .. well, I could see it resonated with the recruiters in a way the details had never done. And it was the authentic me speaking, not the person who had studied the technologies the night before in case I got a question about blockchain!”

Look for the gaps

“In one of my first NED interviews, I was very keen to show the property investment company that I understood the sector. I’d done a lot of research, and was mid-flow sharing everything I’d learnt when one of the board members stopped me. He said, ‘We know about property investment, but we are terrible at strategy. That’s what we were hoping you’d bring.’

I changed tack, and luckily got the role. It taught me to look for the gaps in a board, and consider how you can help fill them. Its important to do your research before an interview, but don’t major on things you’re not brilliant at or that are new to you – it’s much better to focus on what you bring and why they need it.”

Don’t just apply for board roles the sake of it

“Some of the first roles I applied for, I’d selected largely on geography. The organisations didn’t have a strong resonance with me, and I think that came across so I didn’t get the roles.

Last year, I’d decided to target public sector roles and had found just four where I had something to bring and a real credible story to tell. Applying for public sector board roles is not the nicest process – online forms with wordcount limits and a limited set of specific questions with no opportunity to diverge.

“I really spent the time and word-smithed the applications, working on the all-important examples of your experience that they demand.”

I also called the contacts in the organisation, where they were given, to discuss the role, which was so valuable. I got interviews for two of those four – a big step up in my success rate compared to my early applications.

I was offered one and pulled out of the other at the final stage explaining that I didn’t think I could do justice to two new public board roles at the same time. I made sure to contact the chair of that organisation too, who had taken the time to have a call with me when I was thinking of applying. I think its important to build positive relationships whenever you can.”

Set the right goals and adopt a Growth Mindset

“Goal setting is something I often work on with my coaching clients and something I really focussed on in the past year. I set out all my goals then narrowed it down to three, which I kept on an index card on my desk. One of those goals was to secure a paid public sector board role, and I was thrilled to put a tick beside it!

I also focussed on how I wanted to feel – there’s no point in setting goals if its not making you feel the way you want to feel – which was fulfilled, valued and balanced for me!

I also often work with clients on adopting a growth mindset, which I think has helped me hugely in my career. This is all about openness to learning, viewing knockbacks as opportunities to grow and believing that almost anything is possible if you put in the effort. Its powerful stuff!”

Make sure your time is valued

“I don’t mind doing things pro bono. My personal motivation comes from making a difference, and having an impact – whether that’s on an individual, through my coaching work, an organisation or society through my advisory and board roles.

However I also realised that my time is valuable and I needed to be careful not to give too much of it away for free. I now have an income target to earn from my portfolio, which still includes some pro bono work, but I feel is better balanced.”

Take the support available and seek out more

“Women on Boards has been a huge help to me. The Board CV Masterclass stopped me making some simple mistakes. For example, I’d dropped my early board roles from my CV as they were so long ago. Women on Boards showed me that for a Board CV, that you absolutely should include everything relevant from your whole career.

Your next steps…