#1 advice for those heading to their first Board position

Gender diversity is not simply a nice to have, but is a performance lever for business.  Organisations need women in strategic leadership roles in order to drive better performance – and women on Boards is one avenue to ensure that performance lever is pulled.

The best bit for you is that landing a position on a Board is seen as a strategic career move, positioning you as leadership material, gaining you exposure to other senior industry figures and, for those heading into the Not For Profit (NFP) sector, enables you to give back in some way to a cause or purpose with meaning.

Board Directors.jpg

However those first few Board meetings can be daunting as there are frequently a range of unwritten ground rules, behaviours and personalities to navigate - along with the more tactical, reflective and influencing expertise you'll need to bring to bear on discussion items.

So to assist those heading into Board territory I’ve asked several experts to provide their number one piece of advice to ensure your foray into the world of being a director is both effective and satisfying.

Susan Colantuono is a speaker, author and internationally acclaimed expert on taking women from career-start to the C-suite and onto corporate boards whose TED Talk on closing the leadership gender gap has 3 million views. 

Susan’s # 1 piece of advice: Heading into your first Board role it's essential that you understand the difference between "governance" (the role of the board) and "management" (the role of the executives). This is especially important because many first Board experiences are on nonprofit Boards where directors are expected to fill in for management. Be aware of when it's appropriate (raising funds) and when it's not (second guessing the CEO). Read everything you can on Board excellence. I highly recommend Beverly Behan's works including Great Companies Deserve Great Boards.

Penny Bingham-Hall: After more than 20 years in the corporate world Penny embarked on a career as a Non Executive Director (NED) 6 years ago and now has a wonderful and diverse portfolio of ASX100, government, unlisted and NFP boards which she loves.

Penny’s # 1 piece of advice:  Allow plenty of time to read your board papers properly (it gets easier!) and ask the company secretary for explanations of any acronyms, project names or references you don’t understand before the meeting so you are as well informed as you can be. Then walk into that first meeting quietly confident that you’ve been appointed because they value your skills and experience, and because the other directors think you will fit into their team. Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t contribute a lot to board debates in those first few meetings because it takes everyone a while to really understand a new organisation and be able to apply your particular expertise to the task at hand.

Steve Bowman is an internationally recognised Governance, Strategy, Risk and Leadership advisor to organisations worldwide. He has been advising Boards and NFP leadership for years on governance, strategy and performance.  He regularly presents, publishes and consults on the critical importance of remaining strategic.

Steve very generously says: The key to making a true contribution to your Board and the stakeholders they are creating the future for, is to be strategic from day one. Here are some very practical pointers for you to consider prior to your first Board meeting.

  1. Read your strategic plan, understand the key strategies, and be prepared to ask questions at the Board meeting that use the strategic plan as a filter. Some of these questions might be "How does that assist us in our strategic direction?" "Where in the strategic plan dos this fit?" "Going forward, what are the strategic issues around what we are discussing?"
  2. Read and use your vision statement to help shape your comments and questions. Focus on the two or three key elements of the vision, and reflect them in your discussions and comments
  3. Read your financial statements for strategic insights, not dollars. Key questions to focus on include "What are the strategic implications behind any key reasons for variance?" "How do our key ratios measure up against our agreed ranges for those ratios, and what are the strategic implications of these ratios?" "How is our cash flow shaping up against our budgeted cash flow and what if anything do we need to start doing about it?"
  4. Make sure you understand the two or three key risks that the Board have agreed, and weave them into your conversation or questions.
  5. Make sure you insist on receiving an induction program that includes mandatory mentoring, is developed over a 12 month period, and is tailored to your needs.
  6. And...enjoy the contribution you will bring to your Board, from the first Board meeting. There is a chance you will be better prepared than a number of longer serving Board members.

Sharon Berkefeld has held both executive and non executive Board roles in the NFP sector and heads up her own online retail company, she is a graduate of the Chartered Institute of Company Directors, and CPA and will commence her PhD in Directors Duties in 2017.

Sharon’s # 1 piece of advice: Value yourself, the role you play and the contributions you are making to the board, the organisation and the broader stakeholders. It is my firm belief that unless you believe in yourself and take pride in your value no one else will.

So there you have it.  It’s not rocket science, it can be challenging but it can also be an extremely rewarding to flesh out your career.  In a nutshell:

  • Stay strategic
  • Do your due diligence and homework
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help in understanding the reports
  • And do place value your contribution.

So don’t be shy.  Do your Board training then work out where your expertise or strategic influence might be best utlised and go find a position where you might be able to make a bigger and more strategic difference.

Vive la révolution!

#ambitionrevolution #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes #feminineambition


Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

Eight insights to help you negotiate the divide between "nice girl" and "hard nosed b*tch"

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
― Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Over the past few months nearly every single one of my clients has asked for advice on negotiation and the irony is that several of my clients are negotiation experts in and of their own right!   

This got me thinking. Why is it that these women don’t like negotiating? It can’t be that they aren’t good at it because these particular women are highly sought after dispute resolution experts  and do really well advocating for others.  What else might be going on?

Is it because there is a social stigma attached to negotiating for yourself? Is it because women are perceived as greedy if and when we do, and greed is associated with appetite?

Possibly and probably. Anyone who is anyone knows that appetite and women are two words that don’t go together comfortably in a sentence even in this day and age.

But when we are going after big career or entrepreneurial goals our appetites will show whether we like it or not. If we want something hard enough it’s difficult to hide it! And neither we should.

“Victor Ciam of Remington fame - he liked the razor so much he bought the company. Big goals require big appetites!”

My expertise is in decoding the differences between male and female brain biology and interpreting how that may play out in a work environment. For example, in general women are more risk averse, which plays out with many entrepreneurial women starting with lower goals and those in corporates wanting to see more evidence of risk mitigation strategies or research done. 

The benefit of having a brain that scans for risk is obvious – it’s a survival, "playing it safe" mechanism - and frequently good for business. But the down side of having a brain that constantly scans for risk is exactly that. When we feel uncertain, underprepared or under threat, the risk part of our brain will kick into overdrive and slow things down, keep us playing small, and keep us in the “comfort zone” of safe.

So here are eight interesting insights about women, perception and negotiation that might just blow your mind or at least help you navigate the divide far more easily.

1.     Take ownership

We need to take ownership of the fact that we avoid negotiating for ourselves.

Men negotiate four times more frequently and when we do negotiate we ask for 30% less than men – according to Linda Babcock, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University and the author of Women Don’t Ask

Wow!  Really? Yes really. 

In the past year I’ve spoken with many an HR manager and recruiter. They definitely agree with this observation that women ask for raises less frequently and also ask for less when they do ask. Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In refers to this research along with Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in The Confidence Code.

We need to own this piece of the puzzle when reflecting on getting ahead - and do something about it.

2.     It’s easier and possibly more beneficial to have someone else do your negotiation for you. 

Hannah Riley Bowles, a professor at the Center for Public Leadership and Faculty Director of Women & Power at the Harvard Kennedy School, says that

"Women do substantially better negotiating for others than for themselves,"

"It's got to do with social stereotypes."

And the reality, according to Bowles, is that when we as women do negotiate hard for ourselves, there is a social cost as we come out looking less likeable.  And once again we’re back to navigating that double edged sword between “nice girl” and “hard nosed b*tch”. 

And while it’s not always possible to have a salary broker advocating on your behalf, maybe we need to accept the social cost in the short term, because the very real cost in dollars is undermining us later in life with ANZ recently calculating that the gap in salary over the span of a career equates to $700K. When you weigh it up like that, maybe likability is a small price to pay.

3.     Stop talking up how well you do the job – and start talking up your value

Last week I wrote about the issue of communicating value. As women we frequently get stuck in the mode of doing the job properly and well. We imagine that "doing the job well" is a fast track to success and we polish up “doing the job” as if  it were the end result. But when something new comes along or we start dreaming of something better, all we have is the language and experience of doing the job well and that won't get you very far, very fast.

Carrie Gallant, negotiation expert, talks about leveraging value. Be sure to bring the value of what you offer to the table – context and big picture thinking – and communicate that clearly and articulately.

“Leverage is essentially what you bring that is valuable to someone else, plus your ability to help them see that value.” Carrie Gallant, Goop


4.     Change what you believe about good negotiation skills

Tara Mohr, Playing Big, writes about a really interesting study where men and women were paired in mock negotiation. Some of the pairs of negotiators were told that traits frequently associated with women were great for negotiation:

  • Good listening,
  • Emotional intelligence, and
  • Good communication skills

Guess what - in the pairs who were given this information the women outperformed the men!

So instead of heading into a negotiation worrying that you aren’t good at it, focus instead on the skills that you do have (listening, emotional intelligence and communication) and leverage those for beneficial outcomes.

5.     Don’t think of yourself as a woman negotiating

I’m extrapolating here and making assumptions but the following research may throw some light on it.  In 1999 Margaret Shih conducted a study at Harvard of 46 undergraduate Asian women.  They were asked to sit a maths test (traditionally thought of as a weakness in women’s abilities). When the women were reminded of their gender prior to the test, their test scores dropped compared to a control group.  Interestingly when the women were reminded of their Asian heritage they didn’t perform as poorly.

Yes, I’m extrapolating here – but perhaps by focusing on gender all the time, we are making things worse. Focus instead on gender neutrality.

7. Reframe your language from “negotiating” to “asking” and you’ll more likely ask for a payrise

Apparently the word “negotiation” has negative connotations for many women. Another study conducted, once again with Linda Babcock involved in the research indicated that by using language such as “asking” which is perceived as less intimidating, more polite and more role consistent, women were more likely to initiate negotiations.

“Consequently, gender differences in initiating negotiations persisted when situations were framed as opportunities for negotiation yet were eliminated when situations were framed as opportunities to ask.”

Ah the power of language.  Ask, don't negotiate. 

8.    You are not likely to be any more or any less successful than men

In a recent Harvard Business Review article by Margaret a. Neale and Thomas Z Lys they write:

“When both men and women have similar expectations about compensation packages, there is no difference in their likelihood to negotiate. Empirical evidence also shows that when women do negotiate, they’re no more or less successful than their male counterparts.”

So in a nutshell

  •  Do ask. Find ways to ask formally, informally, light heartedly and seriously. But do ask.
  • Instead of avoiding the issue or preparing by reading articles about why women don’t negotiate as well as men, simply go into the “asking” with an understanding that women do negotiate well. 
  • Do prepare - it will help mitigate your hypersensitive risk antennae triggers of under preparing, uncertainty and feeling like you are under threat - and more on preparation next week.
  • Remember that when we’re reminded of our gender we are more likely to underperform, yet when we focus on the traits and skills that are great in a negotiation, we do really well.
  • And finally – there is never a good time for a tough conversation. 
"The right time, while not perfect, is now. "

It’s your career and your future – and your ability to navigate that double edged sword between "nice girl" and "hard nosed b*tch", will be in part what differentiates you as a leader.

“If you just set out to be liked, you will be prepared to compromise on anything at anytime, and would achieve nothing. ” ― Margaret Thatcher

Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution

 If you missed it - The F Word that Keeps Us Playing Small

  •  I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and  art of amping smart and savvy. 
  • I mentor busy professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game. 

  • I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so

Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

6 Signs That you need to Take your Personal LinkedIn Strategy Far More Seriously

Be aware of what your LinkedIn profile says about you without you even knowing

Did you know that women dominate every social media platform except one? Guess which one. Yes you are right - LinkedIn.


Did you also know that some organisations are making decisions about whether or not to interview you based solely on your LinkedIn profile?   I heard this interesting (and rather scary) fact as I met with clients from a major corporate in the Melbourne CBD.  And while I was a little taken aback at the supposed “unfairness” i.e. you didn’t even know you were in the running for the role and you were passed over without being able to stun them with your amazing new CV or wow them with your polished interview techniques, I’m actually not surprised.  

So if recruiters and others are able to make assessments about your suitability for a role based solely on your LinkedIn profile - perhaps it's time that you got your house in order and your profile into professional gear.  Here are the big 6 signs that you need to do some work.

1.     No photo 

This says straight up front that you are uncomfortable in a modern social media environment and don't really want to be recognised.   Gone are the days when not having a photo was simply a holdover from not wanting to be identified on RSVP (that "old" dating site - is it still around?).  Basically, if you don’t have a professional photo on your profile it looks like you are timid or trying to hide something.  

There is the exception to the rule – social media stalkers are real. For those in roles where protecting your identity is an issue then please disregard my suggestion re a photo.  However, if its purely because you are shy or nervous around social media – then its probably time to take a teaspoon full of cement and get with the program.

2.     Photo looks like a laptop selfie or that you’d rather be anywhere else but at work

With a few exceptions such as creative types, outdoor types and entertainers (where a creative photo actually sells "brand you") then remember that the following types of images are better suited to Facebook:

  • the home job selfie,
  • the pic of you holding a fish you just caught on holidays, or maybe
  • the glamour shot you had taken for your hubby last year.

  Think of this as your professional CV summary. Your photo should represent you - professionally.

3.     Too few contacts


Many sources say that the magic number for contacts on LinkedIn is 500+. I suspect this is purely for mechanical reasons (LinkedIn doesn’t publish the specific number once you bypass 500) and it means you are perceived as "well connected"

For those selling services and utilising LinkedIn as a leverage point commercially I’ve heard that the “magic number” is 3000+

Whatever the actual sweet spot is,  if you’re in a regular role that’s not about sales, my best guess is it needs to be more than 400 but less than 2000 – especially if you have been in business for 10 years or so.  

Contacts correlates with your ability to network in a social online environment. In this modern era with information and connection as valued currencies, then your number of contacts says a lot about you.   But unless you are selling stuff to people then you don’t want it to look like you spend all day on LinkedIn either.  It's actually pretty easy to load your email contacts these days. Just be sure to personalise your contact note (unless you know someone really well) and you'll be fine.

4.     Too few endorsements

If you want to connect with me and send me an invitation - imagine for a moment that I can’t remember exactly when I met you so I open your profile to check you out and jog my memory. Your credibility drops to zilch if you have no endorsements.  How do you grow endorsements? Networking of course. And making sure that your settings allow endorsements. If you are connected with someone on LinkedIn and you know they do good work around Stakeholder Management –why not endorse them?  And it's highly likely they’ll return the favour and endorse you for something you've got listed in your endorsement settings.

5.      No current recommendations  

Now this might be because you are busy, but when you remember that your profile is in someway the modern shop-front, public version of your resume, then keep it up to date. As soon as you finish a big project or significant piece of work, ask for a recommendation. Don’t wait til you are changing roles when you want to update your CV. Get it done while the quality of your work is front of mind.  That way when you do get to update your CV you are on the front foot with remembering what it was that was a significant achievement in the past year.  By the way – quarterly or half yearly updates of your CV are highly recommended in any case.

6.     Not active

Remember, social networking is social. It's just on a different platform.  You need to be active to be ranked by LinkedIn and "float" to the top of search criteria. LinkedIn even provide rankings for you to see how you are doing in terms of activity.  

Share, like, comment, connect and email away  - and here is a basic plan to get you started.

  • Work out what it is you stand for professionally - great customer service, strategy, leadership, wellness and/or success,
  • Like what others in your network share - as a way of connecting socially or as a way to enhance what you stand for,
  • Share links to articles  that inspire you professionally (with your own summary for time poor colleagues) once or twice a week,
  • Get involved in a discussion once a week - so comment and acknowledge you value wha't others have shared, add your insights,
  • Build your network - once a week get online and actively look for others in your network to connect with, 
  •  Don’t be shy. You won’t break the internet if you make a mistake.  Go on! You know you want to.

There are many more things you can do but this LinkedIn top tidy will stand you in good stead and keep you on the front foot.    LinkedIn is simply a tool in your professional tool kit that you will want to keep up to date. Given it dovetails really nicely in with your CV development and professional connection keeping, it won’t be a waste of time, especially when you do change roles.

One proviso – cat photos or videos or pics of friends and family are not really suited for this forum just yet. I’m sure the lines will be blurred one day, but right now, LinkedIn represents a platform you can professionally leverage and position yourself.  Don’t mix the personal and professional too much, too soon.

But most importantly, have fun. I call it the LinkedIn game. What about you?

Vive la révolution! 

  • I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and  art of amping smart and savvy. 

  • I mentor ambitious professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game. 

  • I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so.


Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

Any Mentor, Even a Bad Mentor, is Better Than No Mentor

Here’s the thing – hiring a coach or mentor, even a bad coach or mentor, is better than no coach or mentor. Yes, you heard me right and I stand by this.

I’ve used many coaches and mentors over the years.  At a critical point in my career I identified that if I was to achieve big goals and dreams then I would benefit from someone to keep me confident and accountable.  And while fear of being caught out (FOCA) or making a mistake (FOMM) is a great motivator, it's not very positive.  I required a different approach to confidence and accountability.

Women are more likely than men to be perfectionists, holding themselves back from answering a question, applying for a new job, asking for a raise, until they’re absolutely 100 percent sure we can predict the outcome.
— Jessica Bennett,

Frequently, as a recovering perfectionist (and yes, women tend to be more perfectionist than men, and yes it does hold us back) I noticed that delaying in the decision over which mentor/coach to appoint only delayed me shifting forward towards my goal. To the point now that as soon as I can see I’m wavering, feeling uncertain or procrastinating I’ll get on the phone and check in as it puts me out of my misery and moves me forward at a rate of knots – a bit like taking the plug out of the bath. If you leave the plug in halfway, the water takes longer to drain. Remove the plug entirely and the water rushes out as fast as it can go.


So over the years my results have all varied. But here’s the clincher.  My results ranged from big shift to significant shift -  and any shift is better than no shift when it comes to doing bigger and more important work.

Why? Because when you are working with a coach or mentor, you are the person doing the work. It’s up to you to allocate time and resources, to do the homework and commit to action. The importance you give to your work together, plus the energy you put into moving your objective forward is critical.  Your mentor isn’t selling or writing for you. Your mentor isn’t negotiating on your behalf. Your mentor isn’t doing your work for you. Instead you are doing all those things while your mentor guides you through a process and holds you steady and accountable along the way.

To learn more I conducted a bunch of not very scientific interviews with a range of highly successful women and men in my life who had used a mentor and here is what they said:

1.     Perfect is unattainable. But forward momentum is a catalyst for great change.

2.     Done is better than not done, or perfectly half done.

3.     Tomorrow never comes.

4.     Action precedes clarity.

5.     If I hadn’t paid and hired a coach out of my own pocket I wouldn’t be where I was today.

6.     At every stage of my career journey I had another perspective and someone to keep me accountable.

Now this article might seem a little self serving but when I reflect on my own career journey here is what my swag of coaches and mentors have provided me:

  • A perspective from someone who has played a bigger
  • ·A perspective from someone who works with others a bit like me
  • Accountability
  • Specific time to focus on what’s important right now
  • Work on the strategy, not in the strategy (or on the business, not in the business)
  • Helps me define clear goals
  • Gives me a helping hand (introductions, articles, resources, sounding board)
  • Did I mention accountability?
  • Boosted my confidence
  • And the very act of paying for this service galvanises action in the right direction.

However, there are three provisos in this or you will be disappointed with the results:

  • You need to respect and get along with your mentor.
  • Your mentor needs to be able to build you up (not pull you down).
  • Plus you need to allocate the same gravitas to the process and outcomes as you expect of your mentor.

So stop wavering, be decisive and get on out there and book a coach or mentor – and good luck with your next big project!

Further resources:

Fortune Magazine has been publishing articles on mentoring. Read more here.

Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

10 Awesome Reasons for Hiring a Mentor

No longer are professional career mentors just for the elite. In fact it’s actually considered a great strategy for anyone, especially for those wanting to get ahead much faster. It's a bit like a personal trainer but for your work fitness - consistency, accountability and with an end goal. In fact, in the gender diversity space mentors for women are part of a recommended strategy to help keep women focused on career progression, “leaning in” and leadership pipelines.

Sick of reading? Check it out on YouTube

In order to find a mentor, you could ask a senior person in your circle of influence to mentor you for free. Or in the absence of a senior person, you could pay for a mentor. Why not consider a combination of the both? And one of the big benefits of the paid mentor over a free mentor is that the paid mentor’s first priority is you.

So to help you make your mind up about whether or not Ambition Revolution mentoring is for you here are my top 10 reasons why you could and should have a mentor. 

1. You’ll end up working on a program tailored to suit your exact requirements. Your program will be a combination of practical, tactical and strategic – blending long term goals with short term strategies and vice versa.

2. You have someone to hold you accountable, to check up on you and give you a nudge when you need.

3. You have someone to bounce ideas off - who doesn’t have a vested interest in anything other than your results. Plus they won't mind if your ideas are wobbly or only half formed. You get to try out all your worst ideas outside of the office in a safe environment. Your executive team will simply get to see the finished product.

4. You get someone to keep you motivated and get you through dips and slumps, keeping you focused on the end game and reminding you how far you’ve come so far.

5. You have someone to keep you confident and feeling self assured. Did you know that when it comes to success, confidence correlates at least as closely to confidence as competence? 

Evidence shows that women are less self-assured than men—and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence.
— Katty Kay & Claire Shipman

Want to know more about that? Read Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s telling article in the Atlantic The Confidence Gap

6. Your commitment is only one hour per fortnight – with tactical, specific homework on your career strategy between sessions (not some random case study).

7. You’ll have someone to help you focus. As you’ve probably heard about with recent research into the flow state – there is an amazing correlation between flow, focus and results and a quite telling inverse correlation between focus and effort. So here’s the thing. When focus increases? Perceived effort seems to fall. You find yourself in the zone and work becomes more meaningful and you become happier. Want to learn more about flow? Check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk

8. Wisdom and guidance from someone who has been there or at the very least has other clients working through the same issues.

9. You’ll feel like you are growing and developing even though the focus is on your work. Work on your career will have never felt so much like fun!

10. You'll feel like you have more time left in your week to focus on all the other things that are also important - friends, family and wellness.  We've all heard that old maxim that when we are lying on our death bed we're not going to say "I wish I spent more time at the office".

Curious? I've been having fun again with technology. Check out my latest video on the benefits of mentoring!

Vive la révolution! Ambition Revolution! 
  • I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and art of amping smart and savvy.

  • I mentor ambitious professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game.

  • I also with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so.

Other articles:

Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months