Non executive director at Swim Wales; Founder of Start Sooner; Senior Learning Consultant at Vauxhall Finance..
Being proactive to get your first board role: How I did it
Sian is passionate about gender equality and breaking down the barriers in representation. In her executive career she’s targeted many male dominated industries, including the automotive finance industry. In addition she has founded and runs Start Sooner, an organisation that coaches parents and daughters to encourage young women to make braver career decisions early on.
Hearing about the need for more gender diverse boardrooms from Women on Boards inspired her to bring her 20 years experience in people-related roles to a directorship.
Sian understood that getting any board role, particularly her first, would require a concerted effort. “You can’t expect things to fall into your lap,” she says, “that’s not how the world works. You have to be proactive and have the confidence to seek the opportunities.”
Do your research
Sian began researching into organisations whose boards she was interested in joining. She was particularly interested in boards that embraced diversity positively as she felt it would be a good environment to learn in her first NED role. Based in Cardiff, Sian found that Swim Wales was one of the few boards with a 50-50 gender split. “What‘s really impressive”, she says, “is the gender split isn’t down to targets or quotas. They simply have a rigorous selection process which removes bias and focuses on what candidates can bring. That results in gender balance.”
Having done her research, Sian was in a strong position to take the opportunity to discuss this with the CEO of Swim Wales. Having mentioned what she felt she could bring to the board, she followed up with her board CV to him shortly after. Sian also approached the recruiter who she discovered worked with some of her target organisations in Wales. She was asked to come into Swim Wales to discuss a role.
Sian initially thought it would be a relaxed interview given the role was unpaid.
“It was much tougher than I thought, like any other job interview, they really dig into your skills and experience to make sure the fit is right.”
In fact, she discovered there was strong competition with 40 people applying for 5 roles.
However, Sian was well prepared and clear about the contribution she wanted to make. She has a keen interest in mental health and was aware of how athletes can struggle post-career. Clearly, her people development expertise would also be of value, in particular her knowledge about leveraging digital learning. “You have to approach it that way round,” Sian advises, “Focus on what you can bring, not why you want a board position.”
Sian is now a few months into the role, and continues to be impressed with the organisation. A robust induction process helped her get to grips with the more serious aspects of Swim Wales’ business, such as safeguarding.
She admits her natural style is to get her ‘hands dirty’ so being a non-executive is a real learning curve. This was one of the reasons she targeted sports boards as a new sector for her. ‘When you don’t know the day to day, you can’t get as involved. Also you bring a fresh perspective and can ask the ‘naïve’ questions.”
Sian plans to build her non-executive career in future but is enjoying getting her feet under the boardroom table at Swim Wales as well as her executive job and her own business. “When you love what you do you can find the energy for it,” she says.