By Zahra Baz
Jennifer McMahon has spent most of her working life in the private sector but has always been aware of the positive influence of boardwork.
The Hereford woman was working as an Executive Director for Ricochet Investments Ltd last year when the opportunity to develop both personally and professionally, and to give back to the community, came along.
With a strong-foundation rooted in personal growth and learning, the 36-year-old took a step outside her comfort zone and applied for the UK Boardroom Apprentice in 2022.
“I’ve been working in the private sector so I wasn’t overly familiar with public sector boards, but I have had moments in my career where I’ve needed to speak with board members and it’s always made me wonder what it would be like to sit on a board.
“Then, when I saw an advertisement for the UK Boardroom Apprentice on Facebook, I thought it was an incredibly unique programme offering exciting opportunities.
“When I was applying, I was at a point in my career where I had experienced a lack of receptiveness towards my thoughts and opinions.
“My ‘why’ for applying was really to utilise my skills set and build upon them, and to find a place where my voice could contribute in a positive way to the wider community.
“Having your ‘why’ is so important – it’s central to everything you do.”
Established in 2017 by Eileen Mullan, Boardroom Apprentice is a unique board learning, development and placement programme which enables those who would like to serve on a public or third sector board to learn and gain the experience that they need to take that step.
For her Boardroom Apprentice experience Jennifer was placed with the Swansea based Independent Monitoring Authority, which focuses on protecting the rights of EU citizens and their families in the UK and Gibraltar following the BREXIT process.
“When it came to selecting which boards we’d like to be matched with as a Boardroom Apprentice, I really didn’t have any particular boards in mind. I think there were over 40 to choose from, so I did my research and narrowed it down to the one’s where I was really interested in the work they did.
“Initially, I wasn’t selected and was a reserve, so when I got called for an opportunity with the Independent Monitoring Authority I was absolutely thrilled because it was one of my choices.”
Throughout her time with the board Jennifer recalls having to try and overcome her imposter syndrome and learn not to let it stop her from speaking out when she needs to.
“I’ve learnt how to ask pointed questions and collaborate with colleagues, even if there is a point that you don’t agree on and how to communicate that in the appropriate manner.
“The chair of the Independent Monitoring Authority is extremely competent and experienced, so being able to see that in action was of particular value to me as I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to witness that if not for Boardroom Apprentice.”
Since its inception in 2017, the programme has seen 372 Boardroom Apprentices embark on their personal journey to serve on a public or third sector board.
Boardroom Apprentice also prides itself on the support system for those taking part in the programme, ensuring that everyone feels welcome and comfortable in their new role. Upon being assigned a host board, Boardroom Apprentices are paired with a Board Buddy who aids with their progression throughout the twelve-month experience, as well as being provided with a suite of learning days.
Upon reflection Jennifer felt that the programme has been an invaluable asset to her existing skills and proved itself as the answer to overcoming barriers in a board setting, allowing those from all walks of life to experience the boardroom.
“The most surprising part of the experience was meeting as many wonderful people as I have. I genuinely didn’t think that would be the case.
“Being thrown in at the deep end made for the perfect environment for sharing experiences and learning from the decades of experience held by existing board members.
“The programme showed me so many new experiences. From communication, to patience, understanding and confidence, I really grew as a person.
“Between the network system, experiences and support available, the Boardroom Apprentice has been life changing for me in building my confidence, tackling anxiety and overcoming imposter syndrome.
“Feeling proud of myself and as though I could achieve something big has been something I struggled with, but this programme has made me feel like I do deserve a place and that I will go on to do great things.
“I feel proud and incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and the doors the Boardroom Apprentice has opened for me.”
For those considering applying for this year’s programme, Jennifer shares some words of wisdom: “There are so many opportunities you can miss by telling yourself you aren’t good enough.
“Try not to let any fears or negative thoughts tell you that you can’t do it, because you can do anything you put your mind to.
“You will be surrounded by a great bunch of people who will have similar fears and anxieties and the sense of achievement when you find yourself doing things you didn’t think you could do is absolutely incredible.
“There’s no feeling like it.”