How women can accelerate their careers by becoming charity trustees

Article provided by Sophie Livingston at Trustees Unlimited

It’s Trustees Week – an annual event that highlights the work of charity trustees.

I am a trustee at the Royal Voluntary Service and am also Chair of Little Village, a charity that provides free good quality baby clothes and equipment donated by local families to those in need. Personally, I have experienced that trusteeships are a fantastic way to develop career and life skills, make new contacts and do something purposeful for society.

Out of the one million trustees in the UK, just under half are women, but over the years, Trustees Unlimited has seen a growing number of professional women choosing to become trustees both to contribute to society and to develop their careers.

With approximately 196,000 charitable organisations in the UK, ranging from large big brand charities, to small organisations employing just a few people, there are many opportunities, and an estimated one in five charities has a vacancy on their boards.

One route onto charity boards for professional women is through corporate trustee programmes. Several companies are now promoting such programmes as alternative approach to leadership development. By encouraging employees to become trustees they understand they will improve their CSR and contribute to charities in a meaningful and long-term way and develop their talent the same time.

For women, trusteeship offers many benefits. Some see it as an opportunity to gain board level experience earlier on in their careers. Others want to develop strategic skills and gain governance experience. Seeing how an organisation is run up close and working with people from different backgrounds can be extremely valuable for career progression.

One board-level volunteering programme that has been placing professional women onto trustee boards since it launched in 2014 is ‘Step on Board’ – run by Trustees Unlimited in partnership with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). Companies including Barclays, BlackRock, British Land, EY, Google and law firm Mishcon de Reya have all used Step on Board to place employees on charity boards.

Hina Patel, a strategic project manager from investment form BlackRock was the 200th trustee to be placed through the programme and she joined the board of children’s cancer charity, Starlight in June. Hina was encouraged to become a trustee through a colleague at a Women’s Network at BlackRock which aims to help more women onto boards. They suggested it would be great way of her gaining board level experience.

Hina also wanted to broaden her experience and interact with people from different backgrounds and she was keen to make a positive contribution to society. Hina works in strategic projects in BlackRock and with many different functional teams. She felt her experience could be useful to a charity, as many now want to become more business-like and accountable.

She was attracted to Starlight as she has a passion to help children with illnesses and her own family has been affected by cancer. Starlight provides a range of services for children with serious and terminally ill children, by granting wishes of a lifetime and providing fun and laughter and entertainment to children in hospitals and hospices.

Since starting the role, Hina has made a positive contribution. She is helping the charity undertake a strategic review, as well as develop its management team.  She is confident she will acquire new skills that can be used positively in her role at BlackRock and would recommend trusteeship to others who want to broaden their skills.

Another trustee placed through Step in Board is Allison Watson, Head of EMEA Business & Operations Staffing at Google. In 2017, she joined the board of trustees for Working Chance, a recruitment agency for women leaving the care and prisons systems.

Allison signed up for Step on Board after returning from maternity leave. She wanted to use the skills and experience she’d gained at Google to benefit a charity and felt it would be a good professional development opportunity.

Since joining Working Chance, Allison has been involved in corporate sponsorship and partnering – encouraging companies to support the charity through several different initiatives. One of these has been helping to equip the women with digital skills through a partnership with Google.

Allison says that becoming a charity trustee has given her a different perspective, as well as personal development opportunities, and it has helped her think in a different way. She recommends the role as it has given her a different perspective on life and work.

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