By Maisie Laughton
Tackling diversity is a tricky task for just one person to undertake, but 33 year old Polona Rogina is hoping to kickstart a movement on boosting the inclusion of people from all backgrounds and walks of life in the boardroom.
Originally from Slovenia and now living in Belfast, the Talent Intelligence Manager was matched with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive host board for a year with the Boardroom Apprentice programme.
Speaking on her decision to join the scheme, Polona identified that the project’s founder Eileen Mullan was a big inspiration and her motivational speech was one which resonated with the Slovenian’s heritage and desire for a more inclusive workforce higher up the ranks.
“I heard Eileen give a TedTalk a few years ago and I thought the Boardroom Apprentice programme was a fantastic idea to bring diversity to the Boards,” she explained.
In 2017, Eileen Mullan established the Boardroom Apprentice initiative. This programme offers a distinctive opportunity for individuals interested in serving on public or third sector board to acquire knowledge, develop skills, and gain practical experience in a safe environment before venturing into the actual boardroom.
Not only was diversity important to Polona, but she jumped at the opportunity to give back to a community that is incredibly close to her heart after being involved with it for several years.
She said “I’ve always worked in the private sector, so I wanted to give something back, make a difference as well as gain an interesting, valuable experience.”
Polona was hopeful about the various invaluable insights she would gain that would easily translate to both her professional experience within her role at AMS as well as personal growth away from the industry.
She explained that she “expected to learn about Governance, how public bodies work and what really is the role of a Board” as well as wanting to develop a variety of new and existing skills whilst as an apprentice.
“How to think strategically, how to be able to look at the bigger picture and how to better my communication skills” were just some of the useful traits she developed during her time with Boardroom Apprentice and she is confident that she will use them to her advantage in the future.
Not only were her expectations met when she undertook the programme, Polona found that they were massively exceeded, with the benefits of the scheme being unlike anything she could have predicted.
Her time within the Boardroom Apprentice was filled with activities she had never participated in before, something that Polona particularly enjoyed and was grateful for.
“I’ve attended Board meetings and Resource and Performance Committee, worked with my Board Buddy and asked questions during meetings,” all opportunities, she explained, were not ones previously accessible to her without the premise of Boardroom Apprentice.
The overwhelming passion shown by everyone on the board also helped Polona’s overall outlook on the scheme, with everything welcoming her into the experience with open arms.
“Sitting on the NIHE has been brilliant. It was so welcoming and it has shown me the passion everyone at the NIHE has to make a difference and support communities,” something that resonated with her core values of giving back to the sector in every way possible.
Boardroom Apprentice is committed to enabling opportunities that everyone can avail of to ensure everyone is able to get their foot in the door
Polona’s time in the scheme is just one of the many success stories from the programme, with the team at Northern Ireland Housing Executive treating her as a fully “equal board member.”
From challenging stereotypes to promoting diversity, Polona is proud to say the experience altered her way of thinking, identifying that it opened her “horizons of thinking and what it really means sitting on a board.”
“I think it more demonstrates how important diversity is in thinking.”
After her confidence was damaged following her return from maternity leave into an environment where she felt less trusted, Boardroom Apprentice has helped reinstate her worthiness in the industry and highlighted how everyone’s views are important on a board.
Polona said “I felt that I would push myself to apply for Boardroom Apprentice and I’m so glad I did – it was the best thing I ever attended! Just fantastic!”
Having been involved in the scheme in 2022, she highly encourages others to apply for the opportunity, explaining that it couldn’t be easier to secure your place on one of the various boards within the programme.
“Don’t be afraid to apply, do it!”
To apply go the Boardroom Apprentice programme go to boardroomapprentice.com/how-to-apply