By Dena Arstall (BC11)
Last month, I made the difficult decision not to apply for a senior board position in the racing industry. It was a position I had aspired to and for which I was qualified. Moreover, someone, who I hugely respected in the selection process, had suggested I put my name forward. What was stopping me send in an application at the very least? I decided to examine my motives in a broader context.
Recently, I attended a ‘Women in Racing’ meeting. The topic of women on boards had been addressed, along with the failure of the industry to recognise the skills a woman can bring to the boardroom. Perversely, many of the best conversations between women take place in the sanctuary of the Ladies’ cloakrooms and many truths are expressed in these unofficial meeting rooms. A few of the incumbents were discussing the event and seemed demotivated by the boardroom discussion.
“Why do senior women assume that all women want to be on flipping boards?” Cubicle 1 exclaimed
“I agree. I just came to share ideas and meet other women in the industry”, Cubicle 2 rejoined
“I am not here to fill quotas”, articulated Cubicle 3 over the drone of the hand dryer.
I now had reason to consider these sentiments. What did I really want? It is a question that coaching clients often ask and needs careful unpicking.I decided, on reflection, I was trying to serve the racing industry. Taking this position might achieve this but was it suited to my skillset? I re-read the executive description and decided not. I also formed the impression that the role was neither creative nor expansive and might not exist in two years time. Was this what I was aspiring to?
I reminded myself what made me interested in applying in the first place. One answer is that I was flattered to be considered a potential candidate… not a basis for a decision. More important, perhaps, was the fact that I had been asked. This gave me a certain obligation to consider the role. This obligation was intensified by my knowledge that the Davies Report would put an onus on this employer to hire a woman candidate if possible. I realised i was fulfilling a gender obligation: namely as a suitable candidate I had a duty to apply. This disturbed me. My ambitions, unconsciously, were being gender motivated. I felt, I should apply despite having logical and instinctive reasons for not doing so. Indeed, I would have to stand off existing committees that were important to me and which satisfied my wish to help the industry I cherish. Increasingly, I am finding with coaching clients, there are current gender expectations of women that push them into accepting roles they are unsuited to and do not want. I was now experiencing this first hand.
To be authentic and get the most out of a role, you must genuinely want it. Do not accept it because of a feeling of obligation that will be articulated by the words,” I should do it”. I sit on racing committees and boards because of a genuine desire to make a difference in an industry I care about. That same desire gives me license to relinquish roles I am not suited to in any other way than being a women. To follow a blind pursuit of the boardroom, not only demeans my aspirations, but those of women in general. We can all become pawns on boards, but self awareness will ensure that we play at a higher level.