The Drive Behind Girls on Boards
Launched in 2017, the Girls on Boards program through G(irls)20 provides young women with the opportunity to serve on not-for-profit governance boards in their communities. In partnership with onBoard Canada, these rising young leaders have been equipped with online, self-paced, accessible governance training courses so that they are ready for the boardroom! Recently, we had the pleasure of learning from young directors, G(irls)20, and participating boards on their experiences with the program and insights on its role in reducing barriers to inclusive governance.
What motivated the creation of the Girls on Boards program?
For nearly a decade, G(irls)20 has been working with young women who have repeatedly expressed their frustration around building networks, learning relevant real-life skills and affecting change. There are many leadership training programs available to young women, but we recognized many of those programs lack the opportunity for young women to apply their new skills; there was a need to offer real-life leadership opportunities to the young women who have passion and drive to create change in their communities. What’s more, we recognized the low representation of both women and youth on boards is a challenge for non-profit organizations, who then lack the critical perspective of the clients they serve. G(irls)20 launched Girls on Boards in 2017 to offer a program that both provides timely leadership training while addressing the gender disparity in decision-making positions.
- Bailey Greenspon, Senior Program Manager at G(irls)20
How does the Girls on Boards program work?
Girls on Boards selects young women with varied backgrounds and experiences from across Canada to sit on non-profit governance boards. These “Young Directors” receive board training from Ryerson University’s onBoard Canada program and work with a coach (a female professional with board experience) to align what they’re learning in theory to practice. Once matched with a board, both the Young Director and board participate in Gender-Based Analysis+ training to improve gender outcomes in their board work. By creating an inclusive network for Young Directors, Girls on Boards not only unlocks the doors that were previously closed to them – the program allows for boards to gain a crucial perspective that’s been missing at this high decision-making level.
- Atifa Hasham, Girls on Boards Project Coordinator at G(irls)20
How does the Girls on Boards program contribute to not-for-profit governance boards and the work they do in their communities?
If you are looking to add some enthusiasm, optimism and intelligence to your board, you might want to consider adding a young adult or two. One year ago, we welcomed our first young board member from Girls on Boards and immediately began to benefit from the boost in energy. Since then, Rachel Gonsalves’s participation has enhanced our Board discussions, and her participation on public events has improved our ability to reach more individuals and audiences with our key messages – reducing poverty and creating opportunity through microfinance, sustainability initiatives, and renewable energy. Rachel has also facilitated meaningful connections between Oikocredit and other organizations who have similar missions.
Given the positive outcomes over the past year, in September we welcomed a second participant from Girls on Boards and look forward to the further contributions that Ifeoluwa Kolade will continue to bring. Ife has already participated in a board meeting, and Cuso International Day of the Girl celebrations, adding to the perspective and potential reach of our organization.
As Oikocredit Canada, and on a larger scale, Oikocredit International, seeks ways to grow our mission and reach new audiences and a younger demographic, both Rachel and Ife provide insight and avenues that are beneficial to our board and to the mission of Oikocredit. The Girls on Boards Program has encouraged our non-profit Board to think more openly about our ability to be mentors to the young leaders of tomorrow. The Program’s focus on mobilizing young women is in line with Oikocredit’s international initiatives on gender equality. Internationally, Oikocredit continues to surpass the sector average for outreach to female microfinance clients. In 2017 almost 90% of clients reached by the microfinance organizations in which Oikocredit invests were women. In a way, by participating in the Girls on Boards Program, we are able to facilitate our international objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 of achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls, at a local level. Through Oikocredit Canada’s participation in the Girls on Boards Program, we encourage young women in Canada and around the globe to take intentional, active roles with organizations that are making a global impact.
- Karl Braun, Board Director on Oikocredit’s Governance Board
“Our goal is that within five years, having young and diverse women on governance boards will be the norm, not the exception.”
- Bailey Greenspon, Senior Program Manager at G(irls)20
What are the barriers experienced by young women looking to gain governance experience?
Access to opportunities is one of the biggest barriers that young women face when looking for governance experience. More often than not, certain opportunities aren’t made aware to them simply because they don’t know the right people. Other times young women won’t apply to these positions because they feel they don’t meet all the requirements for the position. This continues to make young women underestimate their own capabilities and doesn’t allow them to grow and gain the experience they’re actually looking for. Self-doubt is normal, but it shouldn’t consume you, which is why having a mentor is key to a young woman’s success when looking for governance experience. Sometimes in the moment you can forget or underestimate what you’re capable of and just need a little push. Since each governing board is different, a mentor can also help a young woman understand and navigate the culture of a board. There may be etiquettes or cultural norms a young woman, particularly a young woman of colour, may not be aware of simply because it’s a new working environment for them.
“Young women on boards not only offer a fresh perspective, but also help break the stereotype and gender bias of female leaders.”
The world is constantly changing, so by having more diverse young women on boards, it allows for true representation of the community an organization serves. It’s important to note that not everyone has the same access to opportunities or is in a position to feel they can offer meaningful experience to a board. If there is a disparity, then it’s important to create pathways that will lead to change.
- Almeera Khalid, Young Director on Times Change Women’s Empowerment Services Governance Board
If you could give one piece of advice to a young woman thinking about getting involved in governance, what would it be?
"I would say it is important to take the time to understand the needs and experiences of the organization's service users/beneficiaries. This way, board members are able to keep them at the heart of their decision making."
- Michelle Smith, Young Director on the Elizabeth Fry Society Toronto’s Governance Board
"Don’t discount any experience gained, it’s all relevant and has prepared you to take on a role with responsibility. For things you don’t know, ask questions!"
- Avril Espinosa-Malpica, Young Director on Immigrant Women’s Services Ottawa’s Governance Board
"Learn as much as you can about the different models! They work differently for different organizations and it really helps to know the limitations and benefits when dealing with other board members. You're also taken more seriously if you can speak the language and prove you understand the structure."
- Danika Szucs, Young Director on Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse Governance Board
"Take everything with a grain of salt! Learn the models but always keep in mind that every organization will interpret it differently. Don’t get too stuck on what you learnt - learn why your organization may be straying!"
- Caroline Marful, Young Director on SKETCH’s Governance Board
"Leverage your strengths and your networks to help you get your foot in the door. Take advantage of any professional development opportunities that come your way! If there is an organization you are interested in make sure you read up on their mission statement, vision, strategic plans, etc. It's important that their values align with what you believe in. Make sure to be an active listener and to participate in meetings."
- Amal Elmi, Young Director on United Way Ottawa’s Governance Board