How To Be A Board Director (From A Young Person Who’s Done It)

When you consider boards most of us think ‘pale, male and stale’. They’re traditionally full of white Caucasian males over 60 years of age sitting around a table, making decisions and directing the path of an organisation. While statistically this is true, young people are board directors and they’re getting stuff done!

Young people like us are sitting on boards right now, helping to shape the directions of organisations across Australia. They are stepping up and sharing their ideas with industry leaders. People like Holly Ransom – the youngest female AFL board director.

I sit on two boards (a women’s health clinic and a Federal Advisory Board), plus other young leaders are taking up significant board roles as we speak. Here’s the lowdown on how I got there, and how you can too.

What is a board?

A board is an entity that is responsible for the overall health of a business. As a board director, you will oversee the strategy and financials, and ensure that everything is running in line with legal requirements. If anything goes wrong, you and the CEO are responsible.

Is it easy?

Nope, being a board director isn’t easy. It’s a huge responsibility, and it takes up a few hours every month – full of readings, research, and sub-committees.

Board directorships usually start as volunteer roles for a community Not-For-Profit organisations. You are responsible for understanding all the documents and discussions that take place during the meeting and trusting everyone on the board to do their job (‘cos no one wants to sit on a board that is dysfunctional or will be closing in 6-12 months time!)

Why should you do it?

Being a board director is a fantastic experience. It’s an opportunity to help an organisation to grow and excel. Imagine using your unique skills and ideas to give 100 more puppies a safe home, or assisting young homeless mothers to find reliable, secure housing. Your support and unique skills can help all this happen.

How do you do it?

#1 Get an education

I started out unsure if I could be a board director or what it even meant. I didn’t know anyone on a board, but I knew it sounded like a sweet skill to put on a resume.

So I enrolled myself into a training program – specifically for young people on boards. It was amazing. I learnt what my responsibilities were. I networked with industry executives and actual board directors. I discovered how to get the attention of board recruiters and promote my skills. It was a great environment to see what a good board looked like and how to score board traineeships (yes board traineeships do exist!)

Check out the Board Ignition Program (by Alyceum) or Australian Institute of Company Director’s Courses.

#2 Cut your teeth on a local committee or advisory council

By the end of the directorship program, I still wasn’t sure I was ready for the responsibilities, or if I had the time to be a board director, so I volunteered for student committees and a National healthcare council.

It was there that I applied my learnings (without the legal responsibilities of being a board director). It was awesome. I learnt what I liked about these committees, what I didn’t enjoy, and how I could help them improve.

By the end of my two-year committee commitments, I started looking for a board.

#3 Raise your profile

Learning new skills and getting experience will only get you so far. Boards are looking for people who are passionate, can promote their organisation, plus have unique abilities (e.g. startup knowledge, financial management, or risk management skills).

It took me over a year of reaching out to my network, raising my profile as a leader, and researching organisations before I found a Not For Profit whose mission I agreed with, and that had a board role where my skills would help their strategic direction.

After more than 12 months in my first board role, I am beginning to see the impact my ideas and opinions are having. I am part of a team that has a fantastic impact on our community. Something I am so proud of.

Now is the time to start exploring what boards mean to you. Being a board director is a huge undertaking, involving lots of responsibility, time, and energy. Are you ready for to become a board director?

Samantha Bowen’s focus is to inspire us all to get involved and see the opportunities that surround us – through mentoring and sharing our personal challenges. She firmly believes that now is the time to count the leaders around us to build a future we all want to be part of.