By Zahra Baz
Lived experience as a second-generation immigrant from a working class background has played an important role in the career path for Bridget Aherne, giving her a strong desire to give back to the local community.
Currently employed as a Communications, PR and Marketing Professional for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, based throughout the British Isles, Bridget has spent her working life delivering public services created to improve the lives of others.
As an advocate for serving and improving local communities, the Manchester native took a daunting but crucial step in her own journey by applying for the UK Boardroom Apprentice.
Bridget explained: “One of the main reasons that I chose to apply is because I am from a working class background. I had no connections and no knowledge on how to get on a board but I did have that real desire to serve.
“Before coming across a post advertising the UK Boardroom Apprentice on LinkedIn, even the idea of serving on a board seemed like such a distant ambition.
“My dad came to England from Ireland in the early 60s with no qualifications and nothing but the clothes on his back. The people I see sitting on boards are those who are much posher than me and who have educations far superior to mine.
“However, I did know one thing: that I wanted to improve my local communities and ensure the delivery of public services in a way that will better people’s lives. I’ve worked in the public sector for a long time now, and it matters to me to work for organisations that play an active role in the betterment of society.
“Applying for the UK Boardroom Apprentice was just the first step of bringing my reality closer to my ambition of serving.”
Established by Eileen Mullan in 2017, the 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.
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.
During her UK Boardroom Apprentice experience, the 43-year-old was placed with the Port of Tyne, based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, which serves as the Statutory Harbour Authority with the responsibility of ensuring the navigation and promoting the safe use of the River Tyne.
Despite a strong desire to give back and improve her local communities, Bridget affirmed that she applied for the programme with no one board in mind.
She explained: “I only knew that I wanted to serve on a board that has a direct impact on the lives of people and the communities they live in. That was my ‘why’, so to speak.
“Beyond that, however, I was not clear on any specific organisation.”
After reflecting on her UK Boardroom Apprentice experience over the last few months, Bridget felt that the fostering of individual skills within a safe and secure environment has been fundamental to her personal and professional development.
“Before the programme, I felt as if I was irrelevant. As a girl from a working class background, I’ve worked hard to achieve quite a bit but I was struggling to figure out what to do next. Where do I go next to continue to make a contribution to the communities I’ve grown up in and live among?
“What Eileen, and everyone involved in UK Boardroom Apprentice, has achieved is making us as participants realise that we all have our own story; that people don’t go into a boardroom as the final, polished product.
“I discovered that bringing experiences like mine to the boardroom can actually improve the work they carry out. This programme has completely transformed my confidence and me as a person.”
Recognising the importance of providing aspiring board members with essential resources, the Boardroom Apprentice seeks to enable a wider diversity of individuals to play their part within boardrooms, allowing those without board experience to enhance their knowledge and understanding through in-depth learning and support.
As an integral component of the programme, each participant is expected to actively participate in a series of well-crafted and structured learning days. These sessions are carefully designed to enhance skills and expand knowledge, ultimately empowering participants to excel and thrive in their aspirations to serve on boards.
“At first they were a mix of daunting and incredibly exciting. You get the chance to network with people who have shared passions and work closely together to understand the important elements that make up the role of being a board member – good communication, the finances, the governance and legal requirements.
“The presenters that the UK Boardroom Apprentice brought together were invaluable in understanding the gravity of what we were taking on. What made it even easier was that we were taught in digestible chunks, so it wasn’t actually as overwhelming as it first appeared.
“Having the learning days really broadened my thinking and helped me to see the bigger picture, while also harnessing my ability to form teams quickly and work swiftly on complex information to make informed decisions.
“We then applied our learning practically through group work and our board placements.
“The Port of Tyne was adamant on making sure I had the experience of participating as though I were a full member, which was both exciting and a little overwhelming. It was breathtaking to see the range of what they’re working on, the important decisions they’re making and the vital role that they have not just for the river, but for the future success of the whole region.
“I didn’t have the time to be overwhelmed.”
For Bridget, she found the networking opportunities and fostering of connections with like minded individuals to be a notable aspect to the UK Boardroom Apprentice.
“I’ve met a group of people who I admire and work well with, and I’m inspired by the sheer calibre of people from all walks of life who want to make a difference through serving on a board.
“Not only will some of them become good professional contacts as we become the board members of the future, but I’ve formed invaluable friendships and a support network that will last well into the future.
“It’s been fascinating to see the other participants find their voice. We’ve all changed as people and been through challenging times over the course of the last year. That in itself is meaningful and we will continue to support each other.”
For individuals contemplating an application to this year’s UK Boardroom Apprentice, Bridget extends works of encouragement and support: “Do it. Don’t let any hesitation get in the way of applying.
“We all have that same fear. All of us think that everyone else is better than we are, but that’s not true. Be passionate about why you want to serve.”