Choosing your first board

Ruth Medd, Chair, Women on Boards

This article has been written to help you identify, and apply for, your first board.

Should you be getting started on your board career? YES!

We often hear the following apprehensions:

  • Do I have the experience?
  • What do I have to offer a board?
  • Am I too young?
  • What is expected of directors?

It's very important to understand that directorship is a viable option for you.  There are many boards and committees in Australia other than the highly visible listed companies like BHP or Commonwealth Bank. 

Our foundational events, the Women on Boards Information Evening or the Getting Started: Realising your Board Potential workshop will give you an understanding of directorship and what is involved. We strongly recommend you attend both of these events if you have not done so already.

The director marketplace

Before making some suggestions about getting on a board let’s have a look at the marketplace for directors. We estimate that the pool of readily accessible boards is:

  • ASX500 - the remaining 1,500 ASX listed entities are quite small
  • Federal and State Government boards and committees - 3,000+
  • National Sporting Organisations and State Sports Bodies - 500+
  • Licenced financial entities (super funds, credit unions, mutual banks, insurance companies) and other financial bodies - 500+
  • Not for Profits - 60,000 are registered with the Charities & Not for Profits Commission
    • This is consistent with ABS numbers on economic impactful NFP entities
    • NFPs include charities, self -regulatory bodies, industry associations, health care entities, affordable housing bodies.

Overall there are about eight directors per entity which amounts to 500,000+ board seats. The marketplace above, taken with the publicity about lack of women directors means that efforts to grow 'the next generation of directors' is timely.

How to choose a board

An easy option is to wait for someone to ask you to join their board. For most of us this could be a long time coming. A better option is to be strategic and active. You do the choosing.

1. Where to target for your first board

For an initial board you are best placed if you play to your professional strengths. Professional expertise in demand includes legal, accounting, marketing, HR, digital economy and general business experience.

The Getting Started: Realising your Board Potential Workshop includes an exercise to assist attendees identify a target board. A typical result of this exercise could be that your targets are:

  • Government boards, or
  • Not for profit organisations

2. Places to look

Many boards still recruit from their network so the question is who do you know that may have directorships on offer? It's very important to let people know that you are looking for a board role. 

Since WOB trail blazed its vacancy posting service back in 2006 there is a greater propensity for boards to advertise, openly or discreetly. We strongly recommend looking at the weekly vacancies and particularly the selection criteria to get an understanding of what is out there. If something takes your fancy then do your due diliegence.