Our time is now – my advice for diverse women to build a board career

Nicolina Andall

Experienced NED Nicolina Andall shares her advice to other diverse women considering a board career.

The pressure for diversity on boards is growing – government scrutiny, regulators and investors are increasingly encouraging it, as well as staff and stakeholders. Yet there are still too few women, and women of colour in particular, in the boardroom. Board recruitment practices are changing (too slowly for many) and more diverse women need to step forward as board candidates. 

Nicolina Andall has done just that, with determination, enthusiasm and considerable success. Alongside her day job as Senior Corporate Counsel, she is an Independent Panel Member for both the Ministry of Justice and Lord Chancellor’s Department; Board Apprentice at Aldermore Bank plc; Board Observer at a Fin-Tech start-up, and Advisory Board member for Halsbury’s Laws of England. She has also founded Inspiring Diverse Leaders and has previous experience as a charity trustee and Chair of her Chamber of Commerce. 

We are hugely grateful to Nicolina for sharing her advice to other diverse women considering a board career:

1. Prioritise networking

Speaking personally, my Windrush generation parents raised me to be book smart. Work hard, head down was the way to get on in life. It’s a good approach for getting qualifications and into a profession – but it’s not enough to succeed in the non-executive world. An estimated 70% of NED roles are recruited through personal networks, so building yours is vital if you’re serious.  I was challenged recently on how many ‘cold’ applications I have made on my own board journey. I was shocked by my own data because it’s not many. I hugely encourage you to become a strategic networker – it works miracles, frankly.

2. Bring consciousness of board opportunities into our community networks

‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ is often repeated but very true. You need to know what opportunities are out there to be able to aim for and achieve them. As a black woman in London, I find there is little visibility of non-executive roles in my community. Career success is discussed in terms of executive professions – be a lawyer, an engineer, an accountant. These are all fantastic and rewarding journeys but there are more!

It’s up to us to actively expand our horizons collectively to consider NED roles, public appointments and more. We will find support and inspiration among each other, but we need to actively seek it out and share our own stories. I am passionate about encouraging, supporting and “Inspiring Diverse Leaders” as well as making the effort to be visible myself. 

3. Strengthen your mindset – we chart our own course

As women, we can be our own biggest critics. Who hasn’t thought ‘I haven’t got the exact experience’ or ‘My skills aren’t developed enough’? Combined with the daunting knowledge about institutional racism, gender bias and more, the hurdles can appear so high in our mind that we just don’t bother.

To put this into real context, I sit on public appointment panels and in the past four years, I have only interviewed one diverse woman. Yet there is an increasing pressure and desire to appoint diversity. 
My view is that our time is now. Let’s quiet down that imposter syndrome, consider that the high profile of diversity issues benefits us, and go for it! Yes, there will be things to learn to be an effective board member, but nothing harder than what we have already conquered.

4. Be prepared to challenge bias, with professionalism and poise

At this level it is rare to see blatant racism or bias, but it absolutely does exist. Know this in advance and be prepared to call it out. How you do this is important. As women, we can easily be seen as ‘overly emotional’. And as a black woman, I am careful not to feed the stereotype of the ‘Angry Black Woman’. I advise taking a breath and approaching it directly, yet professionally. I say things like, ‘I just want to check what you meant by that?’ or ‘I found that a bit odd…’. If you can’t challenge the individual themselves, then approach the Chair and if the Chair cannot handle it – then you have a real choice on your hands. 

Ultimately, if you find this bias or micro-aggressions are impeding your ability to progress or influence in the room, then seriously consider if you should be stay there. One of my best lessons from the FT NED Diploma was that it is important to decide which board to join, but also important to decide when to leave a board too. 

I will share that I have left a board for these reasons and it was the right decision. There are other boards out there where you can operate at your best. For example, I am having a wonderful experience at Aldermore Bank, where I feel fully supported and my contribution is very much valued. 

5. Gather your power team and go for it! 

Surround yourself with other women who are ‘making it’ – that is empowering in itself. Women on Boards is a huge part of this for me. I call it my ‘ultimate girl power team’ as I love connecting with so many women who are succeeding from all backgrounds. 

But don’t think you will get a board position only because you are a diverse candidate. You still need to put the effort in: get board ready, build your network strategically, understand your value-add, get your Board CV sorted and APPLY! It’s a competitive world and remember that appointments are always made on merit first. 

So make the commitment to yourself to succeed and know that being a diverse woman can absolutely work to your advantage – NOW is our time. 

Find out more about how we can support you to get board ready with our Get on Board workshops.