Sheryl Sandberg, I'm Leaning In.
I was sick of opening invitations to leadership and networking events where all the speakers were male.
I was sick of reading the composition of new board appointments that still had perhaps one token female member. The last straw was the board appointment for a brilliant, future thinking, socially aware initiative for my city that had one female board member out of seven, with an additional two male chief executives.
I had run an event where the male guest speaker politely required that the speakers at the event were 50% male/50% female, and at that event he introduced the Panel Pledge to the male and female chief executives who were its guests, advocating for gender balance on all speaker panels. Such a simple, dignified initiative.
I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and realised I had to lift my self-confidence and be courageous to overcome the career self-doubt that is common among women. It was time to step up to the plate.
Then I went to a 50th birthday party with 60 women. It occurred to me that if the 50-ish year old women around me, rich with life and career experience, were not in senior management positions or on boards, how will society achieve career gender equity?
So it is game on.
This year, I am doing my bit to drive the shift to career gender equity. I am going to support 12 women I know to take their career, their intellect, their passion and their creativity to new heights – into the boardroom. That’s one a month, and so far so good.
It is early February and in my inbox are two new board bios from friends I have invited to be part of my challenge. Neither had considered a board placement until I made the suggestion. Yet we have identified where their board ambitions lie – one in festivals and the arts, and the other in policing and domestic violence, and I have taken steps to introduce them to people of influence in these areas.
If you are reading this and thinking, “I could never do that” or “I’ve got nothing to offer” - think again. There are boards for community organisation including sporting clubs and kindergartens, not-for-profits and charities all looking for new recruits. There are strategic advisory boards for new ventures and established businesses, both large and small and most are looking for diversity in skills and gender. Do not undervalue the work and life experiences you can bring to the table. Why not give it a go?
Start with a board bio and think about where your passions and interests lie. Consider where you could have the most impact, and then take action to get there. There are courses you can take and plenty of information on governance and board director responsibility on the web. The YWCAs around Australia run short courses, and there is always the ASIC Board Directors course – but this is not essential, and you may find the organisation you join is happy pay for you to complete this course. Reach out to colleagues and friends; be brave and bold and visionary.
As for me, I reached out to an older, trailblazing female friend working in the governance space. I visited the op shop, bought 12 beautiful pre-loved dresses (one for each month1), and I had my first board meeting two days ago. It is in an organisation I have long admired and even as recently as two months ago I could not have dreamt it would see value and opportunity in what I have to offer.
So thank you Sheryl. In 2016, I’m leaning in, and I am bringing my friends with me.
Sarah Gun lives in Adelaide, is a mother, a partner, a business owner and operator, a social entrepreneur and a yoga teacher. She is also a proud board member of the Hutt Street Centre.