Annette Ruhotas

April 2021

Annette Ruhotas is an ESG social expert, an unconventional civil engineer and an ambitious Non-Executive Director, Chair and Board Member who currently sits on five Boards and three Committees. She is also a parent, which she proudly lists alongside her extensive credentials on LinkedIn. Annette joined WOB as a full member some seven years ago, which has led to a series of learning and networking opportunities, as well as a refined understanding of her unique skillset as a technical and analytical scientist who is deeply committed to creating social responsibility and shared impact.

When and why did you decide to pursue boards?
If I think back, I’ve been involved in leadership since my youth. At high school I was the President of Student Representative Council, I was the School Vice-Captain, and I pursued the Duke of Edinburgh Award right through to gold level. I attended a selective academic school, yet I was more interested in the community side of things — how to be a leader, how to think differently and critically, and how to be independent. Ever since then, I’ve put my hand up for opportunities. I’ve had such a diverse career from property and construction to community development and project management to early childhood and health because I haven’t been shy to say yes when approached by others, even if they identify my capability and competency before I do.
My entry into boards started four years ago. I was a member with Playgroup NSW and was attending play sessions with my children. The organisation called out for people to apply for their board and nominate for election, so I did! That then made me eligible to be elected as Non-Executive Director for Playgroup Australia.

What boards and committees do you currently sit on?

  • Non-Executive Director for Playgroup Australia
  • Non-Executive Director for One Door Mental Health
  • Non-Executive Director for The Reconnect Project
  • Chair and Board Member for Playgroup NSW
  • Board Member for the Australian Red Cross
  • Community Representative for Georges River Council
  • Clinical Advisory Council Member for Central and Eastern Sydney PHN
  • Consumer Representative for Obstetrics Medicine Research Group

How do you juggle it all?
We are whole people and I bring my whole self to work. I am a mum, a wife, a volunteer, a board member, a founder, principal consultant, and a participant in my local community. The juggle is about being real. It has taken time for me to let my guard down and to be myself. Something that helps me to do this is realising that other women are looking to me, including my eight year-old daughter, and if I’m setting an example and showing up in my personal and professional life as me, and comfortably so, hopefully it encourages other women (and girls!) to do the same. I also think we are beholden to a certain image of a board member and I think as leaders, we need to relax a little and give more of our whole selves in our roles. If we don’t, we risk alienating a huge portion of people and won’t genuinely reflect our society as it is at present.

What are your areas of expertise?
I learnt from WOB that we have sector expertise and governance expertise. My sector or industry know-how sits in the fields of property and construction, health, not-for-profit and philanthropy, and early childhood. My governance skillset is best characterised by the social elements of ESG, stakeholder engagement, and business acumen and management.

What do you most enjoy about your board roles?
I love looking at the big strategic picture, understanding the detail (I guess my engineering eye-for-detail is the reason for that), and then elevating this perspective to better understand how we can grow and improve in the medium to long term. It’s really rewarding. All my roles have a social justice lens, quite intentionally, because I like to assist organisations that are going to make a difference in society. I personally do a lot of work on the ground, both through my business and as an individual, but in the context of the economy and the way it is structured, I can make a substantial impact by sitting on the Boards of organisations leading positive and sustainable change.

Have you encountered any challenges or hurdles along the way?

I’ve learnt that establishing a Board career takes time and effort to identify positions that are well suited to you. It’s a competitive space so you need the specific skills they’re requesting and then you need to ensure they align with your values and interests. My current challenge is making the transition from non-paid Board roles to renumerated positions in the corporate sector. I’ll be looking further into the WOBSX program to support me pivot into ASX or equivalent boards.

How has WOB helped you on your personal board journey?
More than five years ago, I participated in WOB’s ‘Build Your CV Workshop’, which helped me get started. I use the ‘board positions’ directory to look for roles relevant to me and more recently, I have found the weekly WOBChats highly beneficial. They’re informal and often led by a particular topic and are a chance to meet and network with other members. Ruth a little while back sprung on us an activity to showcase our elevator pitch and as I fumbled about, it was then that I described myself as an “unconventional” civil engineer and it has stuck ever since. Claire and Ruth always remind us that they are here to help and to reach out if you need help. I did a couple of months ago because I was finding it difficult to articulate who I was and what I can do, considering the sheer diversity of my background. Ruth jumped online and guided me, which was fantastic. I encourage all members to make the most of the network and the support available.

What are your main takeaways for women starting out on their board journey? 
  • Look to the organisations you are already involved in, whether that be your kid’s sporting groups, your parent’s community groups or the volunteer group at the end of your street. Look past your professional or paid career, and see where the opportunities lie in your day-to-day community networks and connections.
  • Take small incremental steps, often. Whether that be a WOBChat, reviewing your CV or updating your LinkedIn profile — you will get there one step at a time.
  • Say yes, often! Opportunities can’t unfold if you’re not willing to give them a go.
  • Be yourself. Drop the labels and remember you are human. You’ll be a better board member for it.

How do you think being a parent has informed your board experience?
Being a parent has helped me better communicate and interact with my peers on boards. Most people are carers, whether that be to a child, a friend, a partner or a parent, and I think I bring a certain level of understanding and empathy to my roles. As a parent, you have to be flexible and adaptable to what’s going to happen in the next second, which is certainly useful in the ever-changing landscape of boards, especially in the current COVID climate.

About Annette Ruhotas

Annette is an unconventional Civil Engineer with extensive expertise in the social elements of Environment, Social, Governance (ESG) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). She is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Be The Change Consulting Group and is highly regarded for her social advisory, project management, facilitation and coaching services. Her experience spans Board, Executive and Advisory roles in the corporate, government, not-for-profit and voluntary sectors in Australia, the UK and the South Pacific. Annette is highly skilled in the areas of governance, leadership, social sustainability, stakeholder engagement, shared value, social impact, corporate foundations, community development, facilitation, project management and delivery.