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Women on Boards – Part I

Updated: Aug 25, 2023


 

This article is the first of a 2-part series where we interview women Board directors about their paths to getting Board positions.


In July, I spoke to Dr Maryam Musa, a Nigeria-trained medical doctor who works as an Infection Control Manager in a long-term care home and a Board Director at a community health center. Our conversation uncovered useful information about getting on boards in Canada and I hope that you find useful tips as you read. Enjoy!

Can you introduce yourself?

I am a medical doctor trained in Nigeria and a fellow of the Royal Society of Public Health in the UK. I moved to Canada about 3 years and transitioned from clinical medicine into healthcare management and leadership after a few years of clinical practice, inspired by the late prof Dora Akunyili who led a health agency in Nigeria to national and international acclaim. My experience of the healthcare system in Canada reveals the gaps and the continued need for strong leadership in the health care industry and I believe I can contribute value towards achieving a stronger health system here.


What board positions do you currently hold and what tasks and responsibilities are entailed?

I serve as a board director in a community health center and a long-term care home. I got into this board position primarily because I believe preventative health care and primary health care are integral to optimal population health outcomes.

In terms of my responsibilities as board director, I find that being a board director is vastly different from day-to-day operational leadership of a health care facility. As a board director, one’s overall contribution to the organization is much higher level and strategic in defining the mission, vision of the organization. Over time, it’s about applying strategic thinking to helping the organization position and reposition to deal with identified threats and opportunities.


What attracted you to volunteering as a Board Director with this organization?

I am passionate about how health care is delivered in Canada, and specifically long-term care so participating on the board of such organizations seemed a great step to getting involved, honing my leadership skillset, and building out a favorable profile to be able to do what I wanted in the future, which is to lead healthcare organizations and improve population health outcomes.My current involvement on the board gives me an eagle-eyed view of healthcare organizations and that will certainly be helpful as I advance in my career.


What are the steps to getting on boards, based on your personal experience?

Personally, I applied for about ten Board Director opportunities, and I heard back from only four so it’s important to be prepared to make a lot of applications. I would also suggest that if after completing the first few applications, you are unsuccessful in getting a call back, you may need to refine your CV further. In terms of websites to search, I find the Charity Village website to be a great place to search for opportunities as most board positions are volunteer opportunities. I would also recommend other sites like Indeed and Workopolis. If you’re specifically interested in community health and community development, you may specifically look for those close to your residence and check for available roles on their websites.


What were the required qualifications, and how did you demonstrate those satisfactorily?

For a first-time board director aspirant, it is important to start with a solid understanding of what the role entails so you can properly articulate how your previous experience and skillset make you a great fit.In my experience, I have found that organizations are often looking for board directors with some financial management, accounting or legal skillsets so if you have that, it is important to highlight them. You could also specifically look for organizations within your current industry because then you have industry-specific experience to offer.


What impact do you think you currently make in this role?

I would have to be at least 2 or 3 years into this role to look back and see clear, significant impact. However, I believe that I have been contributing to important organizational decisions being made which could impact the residents’ well-being and it often feels gratifying to be able to contribute by challenging assumptions and asking strategic questions, and to help the organization position for opportunities.


Are there any disadvantages to volunteering with Boards in this way, especially as women who juggle other responsibilities?

In my experience, I have not experienced much difficulty combining this role with the other responsibilities on my plate. In terms of time burden for this, I try to set aside the time to do the research and read up about trends in the industry and that has been a great learning experience for me. Reading wide and doing some pre-work ahead of meetings also helps. One of the things I needed to give myself permission to do was to speak up and bring my experience and viewpoint into the meetings. So, my advice to women would be to get comfortable speaking and providing their perspectives with the goal of advancing the organization’s vision.


What’s your final advice for women who are interested in getting on boards?

I would first say that I believe that leadership is a trait that we grow with intentionality. And because of this, my advice is to identify coaches, mentors, and people to look up to. And while continuing to do the work required to become a better leader, I would also advise that one should apply to as many board positions until you find one that works for you.



 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adetola Oladimeji is a medical doctor and a global health leader who is deeply interested in the use of digital health technologies for optimizing population health outcomes. She is committed to lifelong learning, continuous personal development, and intentional community building. Check out her research and other publications here.


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