Cara-Ann Simpson

Executive Director | Curator | Artist

An artist, curator, cultural heritage expert and previously an executive director with experience across local government and NFP organisations. As an artist, I have exhibited across Australia and internationally, as well as publishing several peer-reviewed papers for international journals and conferences. I was the inaugural Director of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch’s estate, “Cruden Farm”, after spending two years as the Mornington Peninsula Regional Manager with the National Trust of Australia (Victoria). I am particularly interested in how leaders can act as facilitators and custodians within the arts and cultural sectors to enrich and educate communities. In 2017, I was awarded Young Alumnus of the Year from the University of Southern Queensland for my work across arts and culture, as well as persevering in the face of adversity.

What boards do you currently sit on?

I have been on the Board of Governance with Living & Learning Pakenham Inc since January 2019. I was nominated to Board Secretary at the AGM in April, and support the board with high-level administrative matters, as well as volunteer additional time in revision and development of organisational policy. Living & Learning Pakenham Inc is a neighbourhood house as well as a ‘learn local’ centre.

When and why did you decide to pursue boards?

In May 2017, I was suddenly hospitalised with unexplained brain inflammation, and lost the ability to walk. After nearly a year in hospital I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and Neurosarcoidosis. Due to the time it took to diagnose and commence treatment I resigned from a role I truly loved at the peak of my career. I spent two months in an in-patient rehabilitation centre learning to walk again, and realised that I now had opportunities to do the things I had always been too busy to add to my workload. This included becoming a board member for an organisation that supported community and individual development. I was thrilled when the opportunity came up at Living & Learning Pakenham as it is within my local community and provides a remarkable range of services to support and enrich the community.

WHAT challenges and hurdles HAVE YOU HAD TO OVERCOME IN PURSUING BOARDS AND/OR SERVING ON BOARDS?

Becoming extremely ill overnight and losing my ability to walk as well as facing a reduction in cognitive function really knocked my self-confidence. It took another 6 months after rehabilitation to realise that I was recovering and had something to offer to a board. Since joining the board my confidence has re-developed, and I have taken on more responsibilities particularly in relation to the Board Secretary role.

Have you had mentors and/OR sponsors and how have they helped you? IF SO, HOW? 

I have had an assortment of mentors throughout my career, who have supported my work within the arts and cultural sectors. The most beneficial mentoring relationships have been informal, where there is room and understanding of confidentiality to discuss the intricacies of leadership matters, as well as boundless ideas for the future.

How did WOB help you in your journey to the boardroom?

WOB provided me with confidence in my own abilities, while also sharing inspirational stories from the incredible diversity of women on boards in Australia.

Any tips for women starting out ON THEIR JOURNEY TO THE BOARDROOM.

Take the plunge! When I was working full-time, I thought that I did not have adequate time or experience to add value to a board. This is not true – there are so many qualities that I have developed through my career that are beneficial to the board that I currently serve, and I would have been able to serve the board well even with a full-time workload.