YWCA Canberra Board Traineeships: Demystifying the Board experience

17 October 2016

YWCA Canberra is committed to fostering the growth and development of young women leaders. Each year, we offer a Board Traineeship Program, which provides women with the opportunity to gain experience in governance, finance and strategic management without the legal and financial responsibilities of being a Board Director. 

Here, we speak to Marni Pilgrim, who has recently completed her Board Traineeship, about her experience over the past 12 months.

Marni was elected to the Board in 2016 after completing the 2015-2016 YWCA Canberra Board Traineeship Program. She is a proud feminist and is deeply committed to human rights and equality. She has a Bachelor of International Communication from Macquarie University and a Master of International Law from the Australian National University.

How would you describe the Board Traineeship Program to someone who was hearing about it for the first time?

The Board Traineeship Program allows you to be fully immersed in the experience of sitting on a not-for-profit, feminist Board, with all the learning that entails. Trainees read all the Board papers, attend Board and committee meetings, participate in discussions, ask questions, and learn from other Board members without being exposed to the legal responsibility that comes with being a Board Director. It’s the ultimate training ground to develop governance and leadership skills in a safe and supportive environment.

What compelled you to apply for the Program?

I wanted to learn more about the distinction between operational and strategic decisions. It can be hard to get that kind of governance exposure in your own workplace, so having the opportunity to experience that through the Y has been a huge privilege.

What were a couple of your personal highlights of the Program?

I was (and still am, in fact now even more so!) in awe of Y Canberra Board members. Both individually and collectively they are incredible feminist leaders, role models and change makers in our community. Sitting alongside them, listening to the way they communicate, reason and evaluate, and learning from them has definitely been the highlight of the program.

How has the Board Traineeship Program contributed to your development as a young woman leader?

The Traineeship experience has demystified the work of boards. It’s made the concept of serving on a board far more accessible. The Traineeship has shown me that I do have the potential and capability to serve on a board. It’s also highlighted areas that I need to develop to keep building my professional and strategic capability, such as constructively challenging things, testing assumptions, and asking the unasked questions.

On a personal level, the Traineeship has also helped me define my own leadership style and strongly reaffirmed the feminist values I want to carry forth into any and every role I take on in the future. By observing the Board Directors and Frances, YWCA Canberra’s Executive Director, I saw countless examples of passionate and proud feminist leadership; championing social justice, catalysing social change, questioning power structures, advocating for and empowering women and girls to live with dignity, respect and equal opportunity.  It is these phenomenal women I want to model my own leadership style on and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to shadow them for such an extended period and learn so very much from them.

What’s your top piece of advice for the next round of Board Trainees?

Throw yourself into the Traineeship completely and be truly active in the role. The sheer volume of information to get across can be overwhelming at times, but use your fellow trainees and Directors to bounce your understanding and ideas off. Every member of the Board understands what an incredible learning opportunity the Traineeship is and they want to help you get everything you can out of it.

Take this opportunity as seriously as if you were a legally liable Board Director and you will walk out of it with new skills, insights and a huge appreciation of the work of not for profit governance Boards.

 Applications for the Board Traineeship Program are currently open, and will close on Friday 21 October. Download the application form here.

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