Introduced as the ‘serial smasher of ceilings’, Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas DBE has served on more boards than there were canapés at the Women On Boards event this week. That might be a slight exaggeration but Dame Judith was serious when she told the audience she’d had “spectacular failures, I mean spectacular” doing things she should never have done.
That kind of honesty might not be what you’d expect from the panel at an event to encourage women to take their place on the newly announced NZBWN’s Executive Board. But this was a panel of highly successful experienced Kiwis so it was always going to be informative and to the point.
Held on the 30th floor of the Clifford Chance building in Canary Wharf, women from the network had gathered to find out more about founder Bronwen Horton’s vision to establish a board to inform and shape the direction of the network. Only open to those who’d never served before, Bronwen wants to give women a chance to grow their careers, gain experience and be mentored by someone who’s sat at the big table.
And what better way to find out more about what it takes than grabbing a glass or two of Kiwi wine and a handful of canapés and settling in to listen to five experienced Kiwis who’ve served in a range of sectors. Moderator Mary Fenwick first asked how many in the audience were interested in the next step and of the 100 in attendance, many raised their hands.
The question “How do we get more women on boards?’ is not a new one and panellist and senior INGO executive Gabrielle Shaw revealed that she had, like many women, needed permission to take their seat but following your passion was important. All agreed charities were a good place to start, which is what Jenni Wiggle had done. The environment had not always been welcoming though and she said sometimes the best thing to do was to listen. Strategy was also important.
‘The Board is there to set a strategy, not interfere in the work,” said Simon Walker CBE who has a wealth of experience at board and executive level. He explained that they must ask the tough questions and went on to give one of the greatest insights of the night. “Ignorance is welcome because you need a diversity of thought.”
If anyone in the audience was feeling overwhelmed at the thought of such a privileged and powerful position, business leader Emma Loisel had some advice; don’t think that in order to participate, you need a board seat.
It was a night to inspire and educate and considering how many new faces had been drawn out of their offices and homes to attend, there was a feeling that many were seriously thinking about taking the next step.
It seemed right that the last word of the night went to Dame Judith who spoke about having the courage to go for it and to not underestimate the different kind of influence a Kiwi can have in the UK’s old establishment. You could almost hear the tinkling of glass when she said it.
Applications are open for our board until 30th November 2019. You can apply for one of the 8 board roles here.