202. Navigating the Path to Board Directorship: A Conversation with Expert Helga Svendsen

portfolio career Sep 04, 2023
Steps to Secure Your First Board Position

In this special episode of The Job Hunting Podcast, we delve into an often aspirational but often mysterious career path: securing a board position. We are joined by Helga Svendsen, a governance expert and advocate for board diversity and accountability, to unlock the pathway to board roles for aspiring professionals.

In corporate leadership, few positions are as influential and integral as that of a board director. The guidance and oversight they offer set the strategic direction for entire organizations. But how does one embark on this leadership journey, especially if not at the twilight of their career? I recently had the privilege of speaking with board expert Helga Svenden to shed light on the topic.

Understanding Governance

Before diving into the "how," it's essential to grasp the "what." What is governance? Helga elegantly unpacked this for us: governance is essentially the oversight and direction of an organization. A board's core responsibilities encompass oversight, compliance, strategic direction, and decision-making. They stand as an external perspective, guiding and supporting the CEO and the executive team, offering insights those engrossed in daily operations might overlook.

But who makes a good board member? As Helga emphasized, diverse groups make better decisions. Diversity is not limited to age; it encompasses myriad experiences, skills, backgrounds, and insights. A board is more than just a collective of senior executives or retirees. It should represent a broad spectrum of perspectives.

How to Step onto the Board Pathway

For those keen on pursuing this path, Helga shared some invaluable advice:

  1. State Your Intentions: Admit to yourself that you want this, then communicate it to your network. Being open about your aspirations is the first step.
  2. Research and Learn: Board roles are increasingly advertised on platforms like Women on Boards, the Institute of Company Directors, and the Institute of Community Directors. Explore these listings and determine if you need specialized training.
  3. Network: While many board roles are now advertised, having connections in the board community can be invaluable. Such networks provide insights into the role expectations and can potentially lead to opportunities.
  4. Identify Your Unique Contribution: Understand the essence of what boards do, then introspectively identify what unique skills and perspectives you bring to the table.

Compensation and Starting Points

A common path to board directorship is starting with unpaid roles, often in nonprofits. Helga acknowledged this trend but emphasized that one's motivation shouldn't solely be compensation. Few board roles offer lavish paychecks, and those that do are fiercely competitive. Starting with unpaid roles can be an enlightening experience. Helga's journey began this way, and she found it enriching. However, she urges individuals to prioritize passion and alignment with the organization's mission over compensation. This ensures that the position is not just a stepping stone but a genuine contribution to the organization and personal growth.

There is More Advice for Future Board Directors on the Podcast

Board directorship is more than just a title or a paycheck; it's a commitment to guiding an organization's vision and ensuring its success. Helga's insights serve as a valuable compass for those eager to embark on this journey, illuminating the path and emphasizing the importance of passion, preparedness, and diverse perspectives. Whether you're mid-career or just starting, there's a place for you in the boardroom. It's time to carve out your unique path. So, don't miss this chance to hear from a seasoned board member and governance consultant. Tune in to unlock actionable advice that could set the stage for the next big leap in your career. 

About out guest, Helga Svendsen 

Helga Svendsen is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the host of the Take on Board podcast, and a consultant specializing in governance. She is also on the boards of prestigious organizations. She is currently the Chair of the Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency, a Board member of the Workplace Injury Commission, and a member of the nominations committees of the Victorian Department of Health, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, and Basketball Australia. Helga's previous board roles include Royal Women's Hospital, YWCA Victoria, Social Housing Victoria, and Chair of the Centre for Sustainability Leadership. Click here to visit her website. 

Timestamps to guide your listening:

  • 08:00 - Foundational Steps to Prepare for Board Roles
  • 09:32 - The Role of Networking in Securing Board Positions
  • 12:28 - Navigating Unpaid Opportunities and Compensation in Board Positions
  • 17:02 - Strategic Approaches to Overcoming Challenges in Attaining Board Positions
  • 21:25 - Crafting an Effective Board Resume and Key Characteristics for Board Role Preparation
  • 23:35 - Strategies for Aspiring Board Members to Secure Positions
  • 26:30 - Balancing Full-Time Careers and Board Commitments
  • 35:37 - Time Management and Commitments for Board Members
  • 39:43 - Considering Board Director Training and Support Communities

Links mentioned in this episode:


Are you new to The Job Hunting Podcast? 

Hello, I’m Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I’m also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach corporate, non-profit, and public professionals the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress. 

If you are 1) an ambitious professional who is keen to develop a robust career plan, 2) looking to find your next job or promotion, or 3) you want to keep a finger on the pulse of the job market so that when you are ready, and an opportunity arises, you can hit the ground running – then this podcast is for you. In addition to The Job Hunting Podcast, I have developed a range of courses and services for professionals in career or job transition. And, of course, I also coach private clients. 

So there is no excuse – I’m determined to help you! I want you to feel empowered, nail your next job, and have the career you want.

Enjoy the episode, and ciao for now!


Renata Bernarde | Job Hunting Expert

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