Shirley is an award-winning global mentor, educator, author, public speaker, change activist, and campaigner for human rights. She has provided specialist technical assistance to governments and agencies in Africa and the Asia Pacific Region over the last 20 years as a leading expert in education, gender mainstreaming and human rights in developing countries.
In 2010, she founded and was the first Director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Rwanda. Shirley was an Australian Inaugural Women of Influence in 2012, a TIAW World of Difference Awardee in 2013 and winner of the Institute of Managers and Leaders ANZ Sir John Storey Lifetime Leadership Achievement Award in 2018. She is a distinguished alumna of the Universities of New England and Canberra and an adjunct professor of the Universities of Newcastle and Canberra.
What boards AND COMMITTEES do you CURRENTLY sit on?
I am a Director of two not-for-profit boards: Indigo Foundation and Sport Matters.
In addition I serve on a range of other Councils with a role similar to a Director: Coordinator for International Relations on the Australian Graduate Women National Council, their representative on the Australian Government’s Economic Security for Women’s National Alliance and the Vice President of the City Branch Council of Graduate Women - NSW. I am the Vice President of the Independent Scholars of Australia and Council member of the ISAA NSW Chapter. As well, I am an Ambassador for Dignity Ltd, the National Older Women’s Network, and FairBreak Global/Women’s International Cricket League here in Australia, and The International Alliance for Women and the Christian University of Rwanda overseas.
When and why did you decide to PURSUE BOARDS?
My first retirement was at the age of 55 in 1996 after 22 years as a senior public servant, at Commonwealth, State, and Local Government levels. I then spent 20 years in the Pacific, Asia and Africa in international education and development work.
WHAT challenges and hurdles HAVE YOU HAD TO OVERCOME IN PURSUING BOARDS AND/OR SERVING ON BOARDS?
When I returned to Australia I was already 76 with a large family, but thought I had time to consider board work in Australia. I joined Women on Boards and prepared a relevant CV and Board application letter at one of Claire’s workshops.
My first application for a Board position was with Indigo Foundation, a small, innovative and independent community development organisation based in Australia that supports respectful partnerships in several countries and uses an approach which values community ownership, sustainability, transparency and equity. This was an excellent fit for my background and experience and I was appointed to the Indigo Foundation board as a Director and Chair of its Development Committee.
I have not pursued other boards because I was immediately flooded with invitations to become a Patron, Ambassador and member of various Councils involving education, homeless people and older women. I was searched for my latest Board Directorship with Sports Matters. The biggest challenge I have in serving on these various organisations is managing my time.
Have you had mentors and/or sponsors and have they helped you? if so, how?
Claire Braund and Ruth Medd have been both mentors and sponsors since my return to Australia, most recently in sponsoring my participation in the African Development Bank’s Global Gender Summit to be held in Rwanda. This is particularly helpful as all my board, council, ambassador and public speaking work is unpaid and like many others I use my ‘children’s inheritance’ by adding to the mortgage on my apartment to pay for overseas travel for speaking engagements.
How did WOB help you in your journey to the boardroom?
Immensely in my first weeks back in Australia. I attended workshops and meetings and greatly appreciated speaking with other senior Women on Boards' members. I find WOB newsletters also of interest in various management issues.
ANY TIPS FOR WOMEN STARTING OUT ON THEIR JOURNEY TO THE BOARDROOM?
Having a relevant CV and appropriate application letter is a very basic and important first step. Women starting out should attend the WOB's Board CV Workshop to ensure you have a board-relevant CV.
Finding a mentor in your field is especially valuable as well as meeting and speaking with other board directors. WOB provides many excellent opportunities. Continuing to build on your experience by writing papers and having them published and speaking at professional association meetings is useful. Joining professional associations, like the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Institute of Managers and Leaders (Australia and New Zealand), attending their meetings/workshops and taking their certificated courses will build your expertise and give you a competitive edge for appointments.