One of the most exciting parts of recruiting new external trustees for Lancaster University Students’ Union, a charity located in the north-west of England with an £8million turnover, is that it has focussed our attention – trustees, full time officers and staff – on the composition of our trustee board.
Research within the charity sector and in the wider corporate governance environment highlights the challenges and opportunities of attracting more women to become trustees. Like any volunteering scenario, becoming a trustee can mean the following: making a commitment, in terms of both time and to the values and ethos of the charity; negotiating time spent on trustee business with time spent at work, with friends and family or leisure time; and, in the case of students’ unions, being available to support, coach or mentor less experienced first-time trustees.
In 2017, we live, work and study against a larger local, national and global background that people characterise as “VUCA” – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Yes, it’s true that organisations are facing uncertainty, and university students’ unions are certainly not immune from this on a number of fronts, given the ongoing debates regarding higher education. Despite this turbulence, the preparation for our next strategic plan over the coming months provides us with the window of opportunity to re-evaluate and re-examine our core purpose, to reflect on our culture and values, to align these elements with our members’ stated needs and to guide our £8m+ charity to be the best that it can be, recognising our shortcomings and learning from our setbacks.
When our trustee Laura Davies was asked about what kind of board she believed we need to become, she said without hesitation we needed to be a “kick-ass!” board. She meant that Lancaster needs trustees who are prepared to challenge, champion, advocate, inspire and support each other and the staff and volunteers, whilst always keeping the best interests of our membership front and centre in everything we do. But that certainly doesn’t mean a “command and control” approach. We believe we can do better than that.
Leadership can take many different forms. We are looking for models which place importance on collaboration, mutual respect and support, which recognised the increasing irrelevance of “heroic leadership”. If we are going to ensure that we do all we can to deliver on our goal of students loving their time at Lancaster we believe that people need to be prepared to leave their egos outside.
The tone of leadership in any organisation is influenced by the tone at the top level, which means the trustee board members and the management. An exciting development in the students’ union over the past few months has been the appointment of Misbah Haque who joins our senior management team. Having our new top team in place is already raising professional standards, impetus and challenge within the organisation. For the first time in our history, we have a talented all-female team, and we are immensely proud of this. Having accomplished, assertive women join our board as external trustees can only underpin that activity.
Becoming an external trustee at our students’ union develops leadership within our £8million+ charity with commercial activity. Being a trustee of a students’ union provides the opportunity to support individuals often in their first position of leadership, and take part in discussions at the forefront of the Higher Education and charity sectors. We believe that leadership can be exhibited by everyone at all levels in our organisation, but it is incumbent on our leadership, and in particular, our trustees, to inspire the next generation of female leaders. Incidentally, credit for suggesting this post goes to Brittany Tomlinson and Kate Jackson from our Student Development Team; we can’t think of a better example of leadership at all levels than that.
To sum up, there has never been a better time for women to apply to join our board, to help us lead a successful, exciting and dynamic charity whilst inspiring the next generation of women to develop as leaders.
We hope that we have sparked your interest in becoming a students’ union trustee. If you would like to join the trustee board at Lancaster SU, then we’d love to hear from you!
Laura Davies, Interim Vice Chair of Trustees, Lancaster University Students’ Union
Laura Wilkinson, Vice President (Campaigns & Communications), Lancaster University Students’ Union
Misbah Haque, Head of Marketing and Organisational Development, Lancaster University Students’ Union
Inspired? If you would like to learn more about this role or would like a confidential conversation, please get in touch with Bill Yuksel at Peridot Partners firstname.lastname@example.org