Going in green: How a passion for climate governance shaped Marianna O’Gorman’s Board future

 

Marianna O'Gorman is a non-executive director who likes working with companies ready to transition to a clean economy. Marianna’s career started at the World Bank in Washington DC working on its first organisation-wide climate change education program. She then moved to Canberra where she served as an adviser to the Prime Minister, Treasurer and later to the Minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation. In these public policy roles, she contributed to the design and implementation of a national carbon price and worked on the formation of (and later at), Australia’s Green Bank, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. She also represented Australia at climate negotiations in the Middle East, USA, Asia, UK and Europe.

Marianna mentors founders of early-stage clean tech with Energylab. She is a recipient of the AICD Regional Leaders Scholarship and the Ross Garnaut Prize for Climate Change research. Marianna holds a Masters of Climate Change, a Bachelor of Law with Honours and has completed the AICD Foundations of Directorship course. 

What boards or committees are you currently on?

I am a Board member of a thinktank, the McKell Institute, because it generates new ideas and cultivates discussions around important public policy challenges. I am also on the Board of Stanwell, a Queensland Government owned energy corporation. I joined Stanwell to help guide its new portfolio of renewable energy projects and its strategic direction as it moves through a significant period of transition. I'm on the committee of the Elizabeth Reid Network which helps promote and support women working in politics and I’m passionate about seeing women in leadership roles.  

What other boards have you been on? 

YLead, which is Australia's premiere youth leadership training program, reaching 300+ schools across Australia each year. 

What are the areas of expertise you feel you bring to your boards?  

At a time where companies and organisations across Australia are realising they need to make a rapid transition towards a net-zero economy, I bring extensive public policy experience, specialising in decarbonisation, clean technology and climate risk and governance.  

When and why did you decide to pursue boards?

I was in my 20s when I took on my first board role with the Encore Board (now known as YLead) and have sat on many volunteer committees since, but I only began my professional board journey this year (at 37) with Stanwell.

I have pursued this path because I have a passion for climate governance. I am interested in bringing my experience to the board of emission intensive organisations to help shepherd them towards a more sustainable pathways; to cutting edge clean fin-tech and clean energy tech companies to help them reach scale and expand; and to the boards of investors, especially as a superannuation trustee, to prompt more discussion around low-carbon investment opportunities and climate risk. 

What challenges and hurdles have you had to overcome? 

I was Executive Director and co-founder of the McKell Institute’s Queensland operation and, as part of the role, I established the inaugural Queensland board and interviewed candidates for the position of Chair. I was clear about having a 50:50 gender balance from the start, but overlooked the critical need for broader diversity in the inaugural board. 

I also failed to undertake a skill matrix, instead gathering people together that had similar skill-set and way of thinking to my own, relying on my own networks for recruitment. We now have a fantastic collegiate board at the Institute and it's changed a lot since the inaugural board, but knowing what I know now, I could have done things differently. 

In my first year of meetings sitting in the Executive Director role at the Board, I was unprepared, providing short board papers only the night before meetings and using the meeting to report back on activity since the last meeting rather than grasping the opportunity to undertake strategic and organisational planning.  It's all a learning curve! Thankfully, I’ve learnt so much about effective board governance through WOB and the AICD and watching other directors in action. 

What do you most like about your board roles? 

I like the strategic planning, but think the thing I like most is the camaraderie and friendships that develop with fellow board members. 

Have you had mentors and/or sponsors and have they helped you? 

I haven’t had a mentor, but there’s a number of people who’ve had a fundamental impact on my career direction: Dr Habiba Gitay (an author of IPCC report) and Jeanette Murry who I worked with at the World Bank 15 years ago who were the first to educate me about climate change and push me to take my work further when I returned to Australia; Hon Greg Combet AM who backed me when I failed and exemplified conviction when we worked together; Oliver Yates who dreamed big and challenged me to open my mind on where future clean tech could take us and Meg McDonald, Professor Frank Jotzo, Eric Federing and Hon Wayne Swan who each took me under their wing or offered me sound advice at some point during my career. Recently, I've started working with a professional coach, which has been really helpful.

How has WOB helped you on your board journey? 

I've listened to every WOB podcast and found hearing about other women's journeys has been inspirational and prompted many ideas about the pathways to directorships, interview tips, effective governance and how to prepare an effective resume. 

The first resume I submitted for a professional board position was a bit of a disaster (it was an executive resume) but thankfully not enough to cost me the job and thanks to WOB (especially Kerryn Newton’s episode) I’ve learnt from that experience. I also used WOB to advertise the position of Chair of the McKell Institute and found the wonderful, Hon Rachel Nolan who became the inaugural Chair and is now our Executive Director. 

What advice do you have for other women starting out?

Most board opportunities arise through organisations and people you've already worked with or know before, so if you are thinking of starting your board journey, don't start by applying for board roles cold, reach out to people you know and let them know you're interested in taking a step in the governance role and which sectors you're interested in working in and why and see what the world throws back. 

Find Marianna O'Gorman on LinkedIn HERE