How becoming a non-executive director can reinvent your career

Could you imagine yourself in the boardroom? It’s never too late to start thinking about how to reinvent your career. So read on ladies. We’ve got the low down from Fiona Hathorn, co-founder and CEO of Women on Boards UK to find out more.

Here’s a sobering thought: at the age of 40, you’re almost two decades into your career. Whether you love, hate or are indifferent about your job, hitting the big four-oh is one of those moments that makes us all take stock, reflect, and ask, “is this it?”

If you’ve always worked in the same field, then the likelihood is that you’ve gained a great deal of experience (and a good salary and perks, too). Perhaps you’re happy with this path and excited to accelerate your way to the C-suite. Or perhaps, you’re seeking more control over your own hours, but still with the intellectual challenge you are used to.

Or maybe, turning 40 has made you realise you don’t like your job at all, you feel stuck in a dead end and are thinking of a complete career overhaul. Maybe you’ve emotionally checked out, working on autopilot without feeling any real satisfaction. 

Whatever situation you find yourself in, career reinvention is good for us at any life stage and particularly when we hit important age milestones. It’s also critical to staying relevant in today’s work environment. So, what can be done?

Becoming a non-executive director (NED), Trustee or Governor is a highly attractive proposition for lots of people. Women on Boards UK is on a mission to educate more women about what a NED role is, why it can help you with career acceleration or creating a portfolio career where you are firmly in the driving seat, and to share top tips for landing your first NED role. 

What is a NED?

reinvent your career

NEDs sit on the board of many public, private and not-for-profit organisations, working as a ‘critical friend’ scrutinising the organisation’s performance and offering strategic input and advice to the executive team. In a nutshell, your role is to provide the board with independent oversight and constructive challenge. How often they meet and what duties they are required to perform varies between organisations.

Taking on a NED role can be the perfect career move for those of us seeking an intellectual challenge without the intensity or pressure of an in-house executive role. Levels of remuneration vary from pro bono to quite high, but many combine a few paid NED roles with coaching or consultancy to create a ‘portfolio career’. Becoming a NED provides you with access to the boardroom and high-level strategic conversations about how a business is run. We place, on average, seven women every week into UK boardrooms and the experience they gain has proven to help accelerate career growth in their day jobs. 

When is the right time to start exploring a NED role?

We always say start early! There is a misconception among a lot of women that you need to be in your 50s, 60s or an executive at a big global firm to become a NED and that’s just not true. Yes, some of the listed global companies are looking for this kind of experience but there are thousands of other companies and organisations looking for NEDs at every level. We advertise hundreds of roles at any one time ranging from charities and universities to start-ups and FTSE-listed companies. Don’t get hung up by the ‘story’ we tell ourselves of what a NED looks like (stale, pale and grey). The experience you have gained by the time you’re in your forties is going to be invaluable to many organisations, you just have to find the right one. 

For Rebecca Ganz, becoming a NED coincided with a huge life transition. At the age of 48 she moved back to the UK from New Zealand to look after ageing parents. She urgently needed to reinvent her career back in the UK, having to rebuild her networks and reputation from scratch. Applying her wealth of experience to different organisations would provide the stimulus and challenge she craved, while the idea of a portfolio career of NED roles afforded her the flexibility she required. With five NED roles across the public and private sector, Becks is thoroughly enjoying her new career. 

Meanwhile, Alison Green came to Women on Boards when she wanted to build on her trustee experience and secure her first NED role. After a very successful career in advertising and marketing, Alison had transitioned to a career as an Executive Coach and wanted a portfolio of NED roles that would align with her new career path but also her values. The pandemic had highlighted deep societal inequalities and Alison wanted to find a role that would help her address diversity and inclusion issues. Women on Boards provided her with interview practice, helped to demystify some of the terminology of the boardroom and refreshed her financial literacy skills via our tailored courses. Alison now sits on several boards including the Skinners’ Academy, a secondary school in Hackney, and she is the first female NED for Cake Box PLC. 

Women on Boards member, Neelu Agarwal, started to think about a NED role when she was in her early 30s. Whilst on maternity leave, she began to re-evaluate her current job, which was leaving her feeling dissatisfied. She wanted to step up her skills and do something meaningful but had never thought of a NED role. She felt her lack of experience and broad Indian accent would be barriers. However, the network she met through Women on Boards and the access to training and useful tools such as CV templates gave her the boost she needed, and she landed her first NED role at a mental health charity called Second Step. 

How to find your first NED role and reinvent your career

reinvent your career

Breaking through into the non-executive world and achieving your first role can be tricky. Here are my top three tips to help improve your chances:

  1. Network, network, network. The best networking activities are ones where you will meet members of boards, especially Chair people. If real world or virtual events are tricky to fit into your busy life, take inspiration from Neelu above who used LinkedIn to connect with new people whilst on maternity leave. A good place to start is to identify the organisations you would love to be a part of and connect with people who sit on their board. 
  1. Know the basics. While you will get appointed to a board based on your specific experience, be that digital, marketing or HR, it’s important that every NED has a grasp of the fundamentals such as financial literacy and corporate governance. It’s not rocket science and you will find lots of online resources to help you. Women on Boards has an online Resource Centre packed with links and advice, and we also have specific webinars on key topics such as finance and cyber.
  1. Present yourself as a board-level candidate. There is a difference between a CV and a Board-ready CV. Understanding how to frame your achievements and potential in a way that appeals to boards is a skill that needs to be honed. You also need to articulate what it is that you can uniquely bring, in terms of your personal style as well as expertise. It can be challenging, but Women on Boards has lots of advice and different levels of support to help you do just this.  

Whether you’re looking for an intellectual challenge or to simply pursue your passions, there is a generation of 40-something women who are staring at the second half of their life excited about the journey and the chance to reinvent their careers. Remove any obstacles you have in your mind (too old, too busy, too scared) and, quite literally, jump on Board! As they say, “the bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” 

If you would like help getting started with your Board career or taking it to the next level, please get in touch here

About Women on Boards UK 

Women on Boards UK exists to encourage, inspire and actively support women – from all sectors – to find their own pathway to the boardroom. Its network of 35,000 women (and some men) gain access to information, support and connections to help them take on a board role as a non-executive director, trustee or governor, or to get to the top within their own company. What we do works – seven of our members gain a new board role every week (on average). 

Do you feel inspired to reinvent your career? Let us know by dropping a comment below or reaching out to us on Instagram.

Leave a Reply