By Bernadette Fox
Danske Bank’s Project Consultant Alex Deonarine had yet to discover her voice before joining the initiative, believing she didn’t have a place in the boardroom initially – an outlook that certainly changed following her involvement with Boardroom Apprentice.
The London-born, Belfast-based worker was first introduced to The Boardroom Apprentice by her friend and alumni of the programme after being told of the various benefits she could be in receipt of after participating in such an endeavour.
Speaking on her incentive to join the scheme, Alex explained that she was convinced by the level of both personal and professional development she saw herself accomplishing as a result of taking part.
“The programme enabled you to experience first hand what it’s like to serve on a Board, while providing you with important skills and knowledge that would empower you to speak up at the Boardroom table,” she identified as being her main reasoning behind applying to be involved.
Founded in 2017 by Eileen Mullan, The Boardroom Apprentice is a 12-month-long tailor made, one-of-a-kind programme, providing skills and experience that can be harnessed in a public or third sector board.
According to Eileen: “The vision is simple, bridging the gap between aspiration and reality.”
Alex was pleased to learn that she was given her first choice host board, the Department of Health, departmental board.
This opportunity spoke to her “passion for improving health.” Alex revealed that she was able to gauge knowledge and insight on a variety of topics that impact Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care.
The opportunity not only enabled Alex to gauge knowledge and insight on a variety of topics that impact Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care, but also played into her individual viewpoints and beliefs.
She believes that her “passion for improving health” helped her be efficient and determined to succeed in the position.
“Learning Days, Board meetings, Board papers and an ever so helpful Boardroom Buddy” were just some of the opportunities Alex was able to avail of throughout Boardroom Apprentice.
The 24-year-old Belfast resident elaborated upon how The Boardroom Apprentice scheme actually exceeded her initial expectations: “Eileen has curated the programme perfectly to suit everyone who participates and help them truly make the most of their time within the programme.”
Whilst governance and communication are deemed to be vital skills that the 2022 participant procured during her time on the programme, she highlights how the focus on confidence building resonated with her deeply.
Alex identifies herself as “a young, mixed race girl”, and it is this status that led her to feel a sense of disillusionment when it came to expressing her views in the more formal environment of a boardroom setting.
“It can be rather intimidating to go into a new setting with individuals who may have known each other for years and feel empowered to speak up,” she said.
“I didn’t understand my potential and often questioned ‘what’s the point?’ or ‘what do I have to bring?’.”
Yet, as Alex soon discovered, it is an important feature of The Boardroom Apprentice mission statement that ‘a wider diversity of individuals are given the chance ‘to play their part’.
Alex found that she was strongly encouraged to speak up and ask questions: “there were times where I’d ask a question in a pre-Board catch-up and my Boardroom Buddy would say ‘that’s a great question – ask that at the meeting!’ and I’d be unsure.
“It’s important to understand that you are on this programme for a reason, to serve your local community and yes, you really do deserve your seat at the table.
“There’s nothing else like this and this programme has paved the way for greater diversity in the Boardroom.”
The scope for asking questions and the guidance of a mentor gave Alex the space she needed to break her own personal glass ceiling and develop herself personally and professionally.
“As time went on, I built up my confidence and I started speaking up” she explained.
For Alex the time frame of the course acted as a useful aid/chaperon to her confidence building.
She said: “It took me a couple months but I got there in the end.”
However, the onus on personal agency that is promoted within the structure of the programme is what led Alex to own her space at the table.
Speaking of her experience Alex explained: “I am a true advocate for everything this programme stands for.
“Eileen is a true leader in this space and empowered us to challenge the status quo. We could not have asked for better.”
Alex has encouraged other individuals to seize the opportunity to self represent in the industry and be the person they wish they’d seen when starting out in a professional capacity and looking for further career progression.
“Never seen anyone like you” on a Board before? Perfect – be the first one. You will never regret it – you will only treasure each and every experience on this journey.”
Applications for the Boardroom Apprentice 2023 programme open on Monday June 5 and close at 3pm on Monday June 19.
To apply go the Boardroom Apprentice programme go to boardroomapprentice.com/how-to-apply