By Jasmine Hughes
Gender equality within the public and third sector is sparse. The recent Inclusive Governance report [LINK] has found that whilst women make up a significant majority of employees in this sector, only 13% of boards have gender parity.
It’s a statistic that permeates, and which can leave women feeling as if there isn’t a place for them on the boards of charities and public organisations.
The Boardroom Apprentice programme challenges that status quo. It’s this fact that convinced Armagh local Clodagh Palmer to apply for the unique programme last year.
“It enables women from different backgrounds to have an opportunity to be on a board,” said Clodagh when asked what about Boardroom Apprentice drew her in.
Founded six years ago by Eileen Mullan, Boardroom Apprentice seeks to move the board member role from aspiration to reality.
For people wanting to make a difference to their local or national community, the Boardroom Apprenticeship enables individuals to learn and develop the necessary skills in a safe and well-supported environment.
By providing women like Clodagh with the opportunity to learn from a well established organisation, Boardroom Apprentice helps individuals from underrepresented groups to get a metaphorical foot in the door.
Experience is often the gateway to further opportunities — and yet this initial experience can often be so hard to come by. The Boardroom Apprentice programme seeks to remedy this.
Clodagh is all too aware of the adversity many women often face within the working world. With the workforce often male-dominated, and leadership roles doubly so, it can be a struggle for women to achieve promotions or career milestones at the same rate as their male colleagues.
It’s a difficulty Clodagh has faced herself — and managed to overcome.
“Being a woman climbing the promotion ladder and earning opportunities is a challenge”, she explained.
In many ways, the lack of representation women face in boardrooms is a further encapsulation of this.
But the disparate number of women on public sector boards didn’t dissuade her from aiming high. For Clodagh Palmer, a 45-year-old Recruitment Business Manager, the desire to become a board member in such a charity or organisation was two-fold.
Along with the opportunity for personal development, Clodagh says she was encouraged by the prospect of being able to “put back into the community I live in”.
Clodagh was matched with the board of the Southern Regional College (SRC). With campuses across Northern Ireland – including Armagh, Banbridge, Newry, Lurgan and Portadown – SRC offers full-time and part-time education for post-16 students of all ages and backgrounds.
During her time at SRC, Clodagh had the opportunity to get involved with a variety of different tasks and events, enabling her to gain firsthand experience of the responsibilities incurred by board members. This involved tasks such as attending board meetings, committee meetings and event days for the college.
“I struggled initially,” Clodagh said as she reflected upon her experience on the SRC board.
“But then after the learning days it started to click how the board and college interacts.”
The placement with SRC gave Clodagh an in-depth look at the inner workings of boardrooms. Her involvement with the college’s board gave Clodagh the chance to learn exactly “what topics that they have to cover and how necessary it is for those to be handled by the board”.
“Boardroom Apprentice has enabled me to understand how the process works and how I can apply this to any applications to other boards,” she added.
Already, Clodagh feels she has been encouraged by Boardroom Apprentice to apply for positions she previously thought to be out of reach. Clodagh has gone on to achieve great things already — and this is only the beginning.
“I was accepted onto the committee of the Chamber of Business and invited to talk at an internal Women’s Day lunch,” said Clodagh.
“I don’t think I would have applied for those had I not been through the programme.”
Boardroom Apprentice was, in Clodagh’s words, “excellent”. And for those considering applying for the programme, Clodagh has a few words of advice: “Definitely go for it.”
To apply go the Boardroom Apprentice programme go to boardroomapprentice.com/how-to-apply