There are some barriers preventing women from joining college boards, but the evidence shows their involvement boosts success rates. So how do we get them involved? Pauline Odulinski has the answer

The Women’s Leadership Network has been actively involved in supporting and developing talented women in further education leadership and management since the 1980s.

Since then the number of female CEOs/principals has risen to 48 per cent, which is a fantastic record. The WLN is proud to have supported many women in FE on their journey to senior positions.

There is however more work to do to achieve a better gender balance on college boards. The latest data available from the Education and Training Foundation shows there is broadly a 40:60 female-to-male ratio of board composition. Certain specialist sub-groups are worse, with only 33% women on remuneration committees and 32% on search committees. The worst representation is on finance committees, only 20% of which are chaired by women.

There is a raft of evidence that demonstrates that the most successful companies have female board members

Of course diversity is important for the reasons of equality and fairness but also there is a raft of evidence that demonstrates that the most successful companies have female board members. Diverse boards benefit from different perspectives, varied input, and therefore better decisions are made. So if colleges really want to be competitive they should be prioritising diversity at the most senior level.

The WLN has discovered that there can be barriers to joining a board that often particularly affect women.

Balancing career and familial responsibility is a challenge, particularly combining work and parenting. For example most board meetings are in the early evening when childcare is a priority, so joining a board can seem like an additional burden. 

Confidence and appreciation of one’s own skill set and experience is cited again and again. This is where we have really found mentoring and coaching can help, but college boards also need to become more accessible and outward looking.

To inspire and encourage more women to consider board membership, in partnership with the ETF, several WLN coaches are hosting a series of free interactive workshops where they will share their expertise and experience, enabling delegates to discover how they can benefit professionally and personally from joining a college board. Delegates will also discover how their current skills and experience can help them make the next step in their career and further develop their leadership skills.

These workshops are open to talented women from both business and the education sector. 

Joining a board is excellent experience and preparation for leadership. You will develop skills in strategic thinking, learn about how organisations work and how they prosper. 

“Women on Boards” morning session will be an interactive session designed to enable you to discover how your existing skills and experience can help you make the next step in your career. If you’re interested in the career development opportunity board membership can offer you, now or in the future, this session is for you.

“Women on Boards” afternoon session will examine why diversity of board membership is important and why the current situation needs to change. You will hear first-hand from successful female chairs of audit and finance committees.

Details of the workshops and how to book can be found here.

Pauline Odulinski is a consultant and the former principal of Aylesbury College

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