My time as a YWCA Canberra Board Trainee – Tara Willoughby

29 June 2017

Jessica Abramovic

Jessica is the Communications and Events Coordinator at YWCA Canberra.

YWCA Canberra is committed to fostering the growth and development of young women leaders. Each year, our Board of Directors conducts the 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. 

We caught up with Tara Willoughby, who is about to complete her Board Traineeship for the 2016-2017 period, to discuss her experience on the YWCA Canberra board.

Tara has a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws (Hons) from the University of Newcastle, and currently works as an Organiser at the Community and Public Sector Union. Although only a recent transplant to the ACT, she is strongly involved with the Canberra community as a Girl Guide leader and a member of a local Lions Club. She is also the co-curator of @bymepoetryaus on Instagram.

What attracted you to apply for a Traineeship on the Board of YWCA Canberra?

There were two main things that attracted me to apply for the Board Traineeship. First off was the chance to get more involved with YWCA Canberra. I find so much of the work that the YWCA does to be really exciting, and I really liked the idea of being a part of that. And the other reason was that I realised I didn’t have a firm understanding of what exactly a board *does* and I was really curious to learn.

What exactly does a Board Trainee of YWCA Canberra do?

I get to do everything a board member does except for being legally liable! So I attend the board meetings every month or so, I read the papers beforehand, and I put my two cents in when the board discusses decisions.

But on top of that, I also get a bunch of other opportunities – going along to events, meeting some really cool women and learning interesting things, and catching up with current board members outside of meetings for mentorship and advice.

How would you describe the Board’s contribution to the on-the-ground activities of The Y’s staff, members and community?

What the Board actually contributes was something I was really keen to find out when I started the traineeship. The formal role of the Board is to look after ‘governance’, so really high level priority-setting type decisions, rather than getting involved in how staff do their day-to-day work. Where I think some of the Board’s biggest impacts come from though is the fact that they are a group of amazing women who are just so passionate about the work YWCA Canberra does for members and in the community.

So whether it’s making big decisions that guide the organisation forward in line with YWCA values and priorities, whether it’s repping YCanberra at events and in the community, or whether it’s offering up their skills and expertise through events and programs like the Board Traineeships, the Board are amazing champions for the YWCA we want to see.

What is the personal and career significance of having the opportunity to be a Board Trainee?

Being a trainee has been so fantastic for me. I really just applied on a whim, but the whole experience has made me realise that being on a board and being a decision-maker is something I could actually do and be good at. Often when people talk about ‘leadership’, I don’t really see myself being that person, but having opinions and trying to make a difference is totally something I can do. I’ve actually already started casually looking around at other board opportunities I can throw my hat in the ring for when I’m finished up with my Traineeship.

In your opinion, why is it important for young women to be represented on The Y’s board?
I think it’s so important for young women to be represented on the Y’s Board! We are the YW in YWCA, and we need to be part of the shaping of the organisation now and in the future. Young women are the experts in our own lives, and so in an organisation that exists with young women as a core part of its mission, you need to have the experts in the room.

What kind of women do you think should apply to be a Board Trainee in the future?

It’s such an odd exercise, trying to break women up into categories, but I think there are two groups that I would especially encourage to have a crack at it. First off, those young women who think of slick executive women and the ‘leaders’ and the ‘influencers’ and the whatevers and just don’t picture a place for themselves in that world? I really recommend having a go. The Board are such lovely people that, at worst, even if you do find that it still isn’t for you, you just spent 10 evenings over a year hanging out with some cool people you might not otherwise get to spend time with.

And second, I would encourage young women who really care about making a positive impact in the world. This is a genuine opportunity to make a difference. If that is something that excites you, then this program is something to check out.

When you’re not at Board meetings, what do you do professionally?

I work as an Organiser with the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU). So I mostly work with people in the Commonwealth Public Service, where I recruit new members and assist existing members and activists to make their workplaces (and communities) better places to be.

How do you see your leadership journey evolving in the next five years?

I think more than anything else, I see myself stretching a bit, and putting my hand up for more opportunities that I would usually think ‘I’m sure there’s someone better suited to doing that’. It might be on a board somewhere, or maybe not, but either way I’m pretty excited about getting more involved with the governance of the organisations I am involved in and care about. I am also so excited to keep up my volunteer role as a Girl Guide leader for one of the units here in Canberra – girls and young women just have so much capacity and capability to do great things and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Applications for the 2017-2018 Board Traineeship will open in September 2017. Join our Newsletter to stay up-to-date with all future YWCA Canberra opportunities.

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