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Who run the (not-for-profit) world? Girls!

Meet the company who are thriving with an all-female board, signalling a change for the male-dominated sector

Address Housing recently appointed an all-female board, heralding a time for change and leadership for women breaking into the not-for-profit sector.

The new board, headed by Chair Debbie Kearns and run by CEO Janelle Goulding, has brought together leading figures from the public and private sector to lend a unique and vital set of skills to solve housing issues for women fleeing domestic violence.

Kearns told Third Sector the organisation’s newly appointed board understands how the issues of domestic and family violence matter, the options that are available and how to solve problems, crediting this capacity in large part to the board being all female.

“One of the real strengths of the board is it actually brings an extraordinary diversity of not only experience and knowledge, but ways of approaching the issue. It’s a very diverse board from that point of view, even though it’s all female,” Kearns said.

By having more women at the table, not-for-profits have the opportunity to tap into a larger pool of candidates, each with new skills and experiences to bring to the board. More importantly, it could bring the board closer to representing its stakeholders.

Male applicants were, however, not excluded during Address Housing’s recruitment process, but throughout a wide-ranging enlistment process, the board finished with women equipped to lead the organisation.

“This was the outcome to a very comprehensive and well thought through recruitment process and this board was the best we came up with,” Kearns said, adding they did receive male applicants. “By running the best possible process, we got a female board.”

According to research from the Institute of Community Directors of Australia, women represent only 26 per cent of not-for-profit and committee board leaders.

On top of there being systematic reasons behind the lack of women, the institute said women find it hard to tap into the cycle of male-dominated boards.

Kearns mirrored this idea, adding that as more not-for-profits become noticeable and more appreciated in the community, leadership often becomes masculinised.

“If you’ve got an existing board and they are just looking for one or two members, I think not only do they target very specific skillsets but they do find it easy to think of people they know and that’s how male boards replicated themselves for many years.

“The world demands a bit more flexibility and adaptability and there is much more scope for small, innovative social enterprise models and that will probably be how a number of women will take their skills and abilities into the sector,” Kearns said.

Goulding added that it has taken a long time for women to step into leadership roles within the sector “but it’s starting to happen now and it’s really good”. She notes that the experience of an all-female board has been an enjoyable experience.

“I’m very used to women in male-dominated professions but I think everybody should be judged on their ability and what they can contribute. I definitely think it’s good to see women starting to be a little bit more involved, not just as directors but chairs of boards. If they’ve got the skills to do it, gender shouldn’t really matter.”

Both Kearns and Goulding suggests women looking to break into the sector should be prepared to not take it for granted. They add that to break into a male-dominated board, it’s important women are confident and have the know-how to lead.

“Believe in yourself and have the confidence to go into what you know,” Goulding said. “You can’t go in and demand respect from your male colleagues and peers. You’ve got to go in and show them that you really do know what you’re talking about.”

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