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Lead with success > Women And The Boardroom > Coaching Women Onto Boards

Coaching Women Onto Boards

By Donna McTavish

Three experienced directors spoke candidly about governance and leadership at a Professionelle Power Coaching onto Boards session in Hamilton. Each of the panellists has an impressive career in governance and was generous in sharing stories from their experiences inside the Boardroom.

Learning from the Experts

“Have you got any time?” is a question Traci Houpapa has heard often during her career.

“No” would be a good answer, she says, but you know that for her this was never an option. Traci is passionate about being involved in organisations that make a difference to New Zealand and she has been involved with many. She is an experienced company director but she became a director purely by chance.

Being a director is not for everyone. It’s a marathon and you need stamina. You need to understand yourself and be ready to ask questions, express your opinions and stand up for what you think is right.

Like Traci, Tania Simpson has an impressive list of governance positions on her resumé and much experience to share. When it comes to board appointments, she says,

“Reputation really matters, and networks really matter. It’s important to back yourself and to be very clear on what you can offer to a board.

Being smart, hard working, future focused and humble are the traits of a good director.”

The third panellist, John Loughlin, is a Professionelle trustee and has been on the Board of many New Zealand companies.

“Some people are just good at governance” he says. “Having a strong career helps but is not the be all and end all”.

Boards look for new directors with specific skills and expertise so do your research and ask yourself how you can contribute. It’s your job to convince the board that you are the best person for the role so establish your credibility and play to your strengths.

Being a great judge of character and body language and being able to ‘read the numbers’ are also requisites of a good director according to John.

Nuggets of Gold

Several attendees had the opportunity to deliver a pitch for a board position during the Power Coaching onto Boards event. Women serious about starting their governance careers had two minutes to showcase themselves in front of the panel. It was fantastic to see how well prepared, confident and articulate these women were and when it was the panellists’ turn to give their feedback, there were nuggets of gold not just for those brave enough to deliver a pitch, but for everyone in the audience.

Be short

Your pitch is very brief so don’t be tempted to cram in too much information. Stick to the high points that are relevant to the role you are pitching for.

Be sharp

Focus your pitch on 3 or 4 key messages that showcase your skills and expertise and demonstrate how you will contribute to the board.

Be savvy

Do your homework and demonstrate your understanding of the issues facing the board. Ask insightful questions that show your quality of thought.

Be smart

Join a board where you can excel and build your reputation from there.

Be self-aware

Establish your credibility early in your pitch. Play to your strengths, speak slowly and believe in yourself.

10 attributes of a good director (male or female)

  1. Independent thinker with independent experience
  2. Top management experience during periods of big issues and decisions
  3. Intelligent
  4. Diligent
  5. Good judgement
  6. Able to synthesise information and distil issues
  7. Up to date
  8. Self aware
  9. Broad business acumen
  10. Financial literacy

Be really clear with yourself about whether being on a board is the right thing for you.

Being a director can be personally risky and not that financially rewarding.  And as such, we should be very clear with ourselves about why we are seeking board appointments. What is it we bring, and how can we contribute?

On Industry Expertise

One of the very interesting insights was that the panellists all agreed that the best thing we can all do to further our governance careers is be outstanding in our field.  We might first get board appointments in that field, which could then bring appointments in more diverse industries.

Choosing a Board

Do your due diligence! It’s not just thinking hard about whether the fit is right and your skills really match what they need. Go further and look around at who your fellow directors are, too – are they people you can respect and rely on? Be especially careful to find out about the Chair, their style and approach and whether you will be able to contribute under them.

Key life influencers

Our panellists were amazingly confident women who clearly inspired those attending.  In fact, the last question from the floor was whether the panellists had always been so confident and if not, how had they become confident?

In response, the panellists all mentioned their fathers, who believed their daughters were capable of as much as any man! So here’s a tip to the fathers of our daughters about the huge role they all have to play!


As professional women, stop apologising and back/value yourself, BE BOLD, and don’t focus on your weaknesses when you present yourself.

If you’re not in a significant role directly yourself, remember you can make yourself seem ‘bigger’ by reference to big firms or big projects you have been connected with.

How to feel confident:

  • Cultivate your self-awareness
  • Be diligent so you know your material
  • Be disciplined about how you spend your energy

Look for Mentors

Yes, it is all about the right networks and the right sponsors.  If you’re serious, you should actively seek mentors who will give you good counsel and guidance and introduce you to important and influential networks.  Mentors want to work with self-starting, hard working and disciplined mentees.  You need to put yourself out there, in a professional and determined manner, and the mentors will respond.


If you are one of the many women interested in a career in governance, take advantage of the rich online resources that are available to assist your journey.

A good starting place is the Ministry of Women’s Affairs website at for information and help with preparing and joining a board role including:

  • writing a CV tailored for a governance position
  • an online self-assessment tool to assess your board readiness
  • a database that facilitates the appointment of women to state sector boards and committees

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