WHEN the University of Newcastle launched expressions of interest for its inaugural Financial Literacy for Women on Boards program in 2021, Professor Coralie English quickly applied.
A research leader at Hunter Medical Research Institute and a professor of physiotherapy at UoN, Professor English was interested in understanding more about boards in view of joining the Stroke Foundation board.
"I had been increasingly interested in the idea of serving on boards, partly because it was a time in my career that I was looking for variety and ways to add value beyond what I was doing," she says.
"I had an interest in getting involved in the Stroke Foundation board and I knew it was something I wanted to be involved in because that's my area of research and passion. I had done leadership courses but I didn't know what boards were about."
Delivered via Zoom and open to female researchers at UoN, the six-month program offered a range of specific training sessions that provided participants with experience and expertise delivered by local industry leaders including Greater Bank deputy chair, Jayne Drinkwater, and UoN's financial literacy coordinator, Kathryn Rimmer.
While many researchers are responsible for managing budgets on research projects and within their departments, reviewing entire financial sheet statements is new territory for many.
As such, Financial Literacy for Women on Boards session was targeted to introduce financial literacy for boards and enable the participants to face the financials of any organisation they may serve with confidence and proficiency.
Learning in what she described a "safe" environment, Professor English completed the course and believesit gave her advantage - she was recently joined the Stroke Foundation's board.
"I have been appointed to the Foundation as a research special interest member and the skills that it gave me helped in my application ... and certainly helped me get off to a flying start in my ability to contribute to the board and my confidence in that space," she says.
"It gave me a broader understanding of what boards do, demystifying some of the terms - even, to be honest, things like what's a director and non executive director, how does a board function. I had a vague idea it was about governance but the detail as to how it works at a deeper level and its core responsibilities and roles were not something I was across."
Expressions of interest open on September 1 for the latest cohort in the WOB program, which offers targeted training to women at the University to empower and upskill them for positions on boards locally and nationally.
The program includes six sessions on topics ranging from working toward a board and financial literacy and also offers bespoke mentoring for board applications.
Professor English said a key thing she was seeking was to "understand and demystify" her education around financial reporting.
"I knew even before going into the course that directors held a huge amount of responsibility in terms of ensuring a company is running effectively but being a physiotherapist by training and a researcher, I am not trained in anything to do with financial management, but I knew I would have some responsibility to be financially literate on a board," she says.
She now feels confident in that space and also found the program helpful as far as being able to prepare a "board-specific" CV.
"If you are pitching to a board you don't know or have a relationship with or organisation you have to sell what you can bring to a board and that's different to probably what you have done before in terms of job applications or CVs for research positions, so my standard academic CV would have been useless," she said.
"Knowing how to sell what you can bring to a board in a way it can understand and unpack is important."
Professor English said she had also found short education courses and talking to people with board positions helpful.
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