Laura Dabbs

Customer Services lead at Women on Boards and Board member at Hillingdon Healthwatch


Leveraging your transferable skills for a board role

Laura may have only joined the board of Hillingdon Healthwatch three months ago, but she has wasted no time in putting her skills to work for the organisation. Whilst some might still be waiting for their first board meeting to come around, Laura has already attended two in-depth strategy sessions and is supporting a recruitment process.

But how does a customer services professional get involved in a health body?

“It’s something completely different for me,” recognises Laura, who is Women on Boards’ Customer Service lead and previously worked at ZSL, who run both London and Whipsnade Zoo. “But what Healthwatch does is so important and Covid-19 makes it even more so. I also liked that fact it is in my local community and has a shop front for people to visit – when we are allowed again!”

A Healthwatch organisation operates in every area of the UK and their purpose is to strengthen the voice of anyone that uses health and social care services.

“They were very keen to bring in a board member from a non-health background,”

Laura says. “I knew that being local was important, as I can bring the perspective of the community who aren’t perhaps aware or familiar with how the NHS and wider health support works.”

However, Laura had prepared a strong case as to the value she personally would be able to offer. “I’d given time to thinking through my transferable skills and how they would be relevant to Healthwatch before I had an exploratory call with the CEO,” she explains. “Actually, there is a lot of cross-over as a customer (or patient), focus and engagement is what they are all about.”

“Another example is my HR knowledge,” Laura says. “Whilst I’m not an HR specialist, I’ve been a people manager for over 10 years and have had a lot of experience in employee relations and recruitment. I can transfer that to advise Hillingdon Healthwatch on common HR issues in a non-executive capacity.”

Laura has already offered support on recruitment methods for a ‘Signposting Officer’, whose focus is to support members of the public to resolve issues, queries or complaints around their health care – very similar to a customer services role in other organisations.

Being an ‘outside’ voice on the board

Laura admits that moving into the health sector isn’t an easy step in many ways. “The language is tough, it’s very acronym heavy,” she explains, “and most of the other board members, and staff, are health professionals so it’s very familiar to them.”

However, Laura has not found her different background makes her feel out of place. “It’s a really diverse board, in terms of gender, ethnicity and age,” Laura says. “It also helps that the Chair is very warm and welcoming. She makes a real point of making you feel heard and that your contribution is worthwhile. It makes me feel confident to put an idea or different perspective forward.”

Laura admits that it has been working at Women on Boards which inspired her to get a board role herself. “It wasn’t something I’d ever really thought about before, but seeing so many women – in our team and our network- on boards made me realise I’d have something to offer,” she explains. “It also helps me to really understand and put into context the issues some of our members are having.”

Although working at Women on Boards brought Laura to this non-executive role, it is the rewards of the role itself that will keep her there. “Joining the local Healthwatch board is a great opportunity to broaden and maintain my experience,” she explains, “I can get involved in things like recruitment and organisation-wide strategy, that I might not do as often at work. But most of all, I really like that I’m contributing to my local area and on an issue as important as health.”

Your next steps…