Rebecca Broad is a freelance writer, social media manager, and organic content strategist. She is a trustee for a wildlife trust and passionate about saving the planet.
As someone who identifies as a young, female, and neurodivergent business owner, inclusion and diversity work is incredibly important to her.
The wording of trustee adverts is important
I’d been volunteering for the charity [where I’m a trustee] for a number of years. My notion of what a board was had been formed from when I saw the members of the board walking around the office. They were older than me, a bit scary and had loads of power. The advert I saw was in the members’ magazine. It said,’ We particularly encourage applications from people who are in the age group 18-30.’ I thought, ‘That’s me.’
My first meeting was really good
Summer was starting and it took place at one of the trust’s wildlife reserves. A big square table was set up with coffee and cake to refresh ourselves. There were three or four other new trustees and we each received a trustee buddy so I arrived with someone. A lot of people didn't know each other so we all wrote our names on cards in front of us.
I’d never operated at board level before I was 22
At that first board meeting we got stuck in straight away. I’d had the papers more than a week in advance so the subject matter was what I expected but I didn't understand that the discussion was quite formal at board level. I didn't have a preconception of what that was like. The most experience I'd had as a freelancer was presenting to the senior leadership team.
Our chair remembers that we’re people first and that’s really nice in a professional environment
She has a friendly, caring nature I really like. That comes before anything else. Something I remember from the first board meeting was that she just invited my opinion because I hadn’t spoken up at that point. If I’d had to call off ill because of migraine or various disabilities she messages to check I’m ok. We’ve had a couple of one to one chats around me being a young trustee which has been helpful.
When I joined the board it was very different to now
There were trustees who’d been on the board a long time. I arrived in a new cohort of six trustees, which swelled the board significantly. There was sometimes a feeling of newbies and oldies, with very strong voices on each side. We have our own individual strengths though, each of which is respected, and we all settled in quickly. Nearly five years after I joined the board it does feel quite equal.
When there’s conflict we try to hear everyone out
It feels like an evidence-led thing, not a conflict between people’s personalities. Dissent is done with a lot of intention. If conflict gets too heated one of the trustees will point it out and that makes everyone take a step back. Extra meetings will be scheduled to try and resolve an issue so that the board feels that it’s made the right decision.
I sometimes find it hard to present my opinion verbally
If I’m going into a meeting and I’m going to challenge other people or if I’m going to vote against the majority I go deep into the research. I need to trust that I know enough about it so that I can back my own opinion up.
Some challenges I brought up around EDI lead to the establishment of a nominations committee
Everyone comes from different professional backgrounds and that brings in a lot of different skills. When I ran the skills audit we identified the 24 skills we needed on the board and we covered about 23 of them. Age range is a lot more diverse than it has ever been and the gender balance is good. However we’re not very racially diverse and our board is skewed towards higher incomes.
The imbalance of income is the thing I’ve found hardest
When I joined I was a part-time disabled student. I had to spend a fiver to get a bus to the meeting and at the time that was a lot. I would look at the sandwiches left at the end of the meeting and think they would have sorted me out for the week.
Income can skew discussions about spaces too
I’m the only inner city trustee so I bring a different perspective to the board. This plays out even in informal discussions. People would talk about what flowers were coming up in their garden. At the time I didn’t have a garden and people were talking about travelling to Africa and following the ospreys down the east coast.
Our WhatsApp group help keep the charity front of my mind
We have occasional meetups like a walk round the reserve and that’s a nice way of building bonds with other trustees and with staff. Instead of only going to a board meeting once a quarter: it’s reassuring there’s always board eyes on the organisation. Then we have a WhatsApp group that’s more social which we use for things like ‘How’s everyone doing? I saw a nice flower today.’
I’m glad that my first trusteeship has been in a larger organisation where there's practical support
We have an HR and governance officer and her job is to herd us. She had done a lot of the communications before and she helps us access the info sharing system. We have an information sharing portal for all the board papers. Any work requiring immediate action or attention is done via email.
When I talk to other trustees I can see that having an HR and governance person, as we do, is good. Without that it’s a lot to take on.
It’s important for me to remember that many trustees are retired
The time I take off for board work reduces my earning potential as a freelancer. I have to be aware of that, and balance it as best I can. And for those of us with health conditions, long meetings and long days can be especially taxing. Sometimes, a board meeting in the evening or the weekend, when I would otherwise be recovering, is too much. These days, I trust myself to make the right call for me and my role.
Being on a board has allowed me to realise that what I think and what I decide is important
My scientific background helps when there are certain decisions to be made; something like reintroduction of species that is controversial and requires up to date research. I feel confident looking into that. The young people thing is important if we’re looking at a campaign to get young people to engage. And my media experience is valuable too.
Being part of a board decision and taking a vote has an impact, and multiple people trusting me with that is important and empowering.
Fiona McAuslan is Getting on Board's Communications Director.
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