Eileen Mullan is founder of Boardroom Apprentice – an initiative that bridges the gap between aspiration and reality for those who want to serve on a board and would like some help to get there. She is a champion for boardroom diversity and a believer in anything is possible, being constantly frustrated by the phrase ‘these things take time’.
Eileen’s TEDxStormont talk in 2016 was all about time; make time for what matters to you. Since her inspiring appearance on the red dot, Eileen has been on an amazing journey and one that we wanted to find out more about…
Eileen, how was your TEDxStormont experience?
I loved it. It was absolutely amazing. The nerves were there but I didn’t care because I had made a commitment to myself that I wanted to do it. I wanted to speak for 14/15 minutes without a bit of paper in my hand and I wanted to share a message that I cared about. I was just buzzing. I had had my kidney transplant two years earlier and my brother who donated his kidney to me was there with his wife, my sister and my partner. And for them to see me on stage delivering those messages was just powerful.
What has happened for you since the TEDxStormont talk?
I had this idea to create something really practical that would enable people who wanted to serve on a board to learn how to do just that in a safe way. I started on a journey of crafting what that might look like. So, I created the genesis of Boardroom Apprentice and I knew I couldn’t do this on my own, I needed the help of others, and many of them.
What I was finding was that everybody loved the idea but about a year later, I was no further forward. And I thought, what is it that’s not working here? I started having conversations with some of the political parties who felt that this was something that they could support financially to try a pilot. And then Stormont collapsed. I was like, ‘right, what next?’
I called a meeting of everybody who had offered to help and I said that there’s three things I can do here; first I can stop and you’ll never hear from me again. Secondly, we can wait until Stormont returns and seek to secure funding then. Or third, I ask us all for a little bit more and we can make this happen with no money but on goodwill. And they all said yes to number three. So, we started pulling a plan together to go live with recruitment for Boardroom Apprentice 2017. We had 24 host boards so I thought if we received 15 applications that would be great. There were 200.
What benefits are you seeing for the Boardroom Apprentices?
I started out on this journey to try something different and see if it had any impact. Never did I imagine that 4 years later, with nearly 800 applications, 163 Boardroom Apprentices and over 60 Host Boards that the programme’s impact is being felt in many ways. With support from the Department of Finance the opportunity for more people to take part in the programme has been provided. A comprehensive evaluation framework was put in place where we track our Board Apprentices after they complete. The tracking of the 2017 and 2018 cohorts has been completed to date. Between those two groups, 68% of them are sitting on a board playing an active role. 32% are waiting for the right board. That is success for them, the Boards that secure them and society in having their voices at the table..
100% felt that the programme equipped them to apply for board positions and 62.5% had experienced career progression since completing the programme – including career changes, promotion, pay increases and additional responsibility. And 67% of those people believe that was down to the Boardroom Apprentice programme.
100% believe they were able to transfer their learning experience from the programme into their professional practice and they all felt that the immersive programme made them more informed, more experienced, more competent, and above all more ready to play a part in the boardroom.
At any one time there are 60,000 board positions open in Northern Ireland. How does the Boardroom Apprentice programme help to fill those positions?
There are approximately 60,000 board seats in Northern Ireland, and they’re in the public or third sector. There’s a rotation and we’re not creating a pipeline for people ready to step into those roles.
So as those people all move on, Boardroom Apprentice is creating the pipeline which helps to change the shape, face, tone and diversity of our boards right across the sector as the apprentices are equipped to know not just what to do, but to how to do it. As we allow people to learn and develop, we will move forward in a positive way. So those 60,000 seats will all look different in 5, 10, 15, 20 years’ time.
What should people consider if they’re interested in becoming a Boardroom Apprentice?
Is serving on a Board in the public or third sector something you want to do? Do you want to learn not just what is required as a board member but how to be a great board member? Are you willing to give up a significant amount of time to be a Boardroom Apprentice? If you are employed you will need your employer’s support. Make sure you are eligible to apply. And you need to be ready to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. But the energetic dynamic is unbelievable.
What is next for you?
I’m climbing Ben Nevis in July. Next on the list is Mont Blanc but I think that’s a wee bit off!
Regarding Boardoom Apprentice, it has gone further than I ever imagined. But it wouldn’t be where it is today without all the people who said they wanted to help. I think every board in the country and the world should have a seat at the table for somebody to learn in a safe way. And you really shouldn’t need a programme to enable that to happen. It should be in the DNA of every board that we have a space at the table for somebody to learn. Thanks to everybody who said yes to supporting Boardroom Apprentice and taking a risk and trusting me. Because without you, the 163 Boardroom Apprentices wouldn’t have had this opportunity. Or indeed the ones yet to come.
If you’re interested in finding out more about becoming a Boardroom Apprentice, visit the website here: https://boardroomapprentice.com/ from Monday 10th May.