Aussie program leads boardroom push for women

By Andrew Spence  15th of August, 2016 First Published on The Lead South Australia 

AN Australian program designed to help more businesswomen attain senior executive roles and board positions is set to launch in the United States.

Donny Walford, Managing Director, behind closed doorsBehind Closed Doors began in the South Australian capital Adelaide in 2008 and now also has branches in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

More than 600 women have been involved with the programs, which currently have more than 300 members across Australia.

The invitation-only programs involve monthly meetings of 12 to 15 women where high profile facilitators lead discussions about strategies, issues and challenges facing board members, executives and business owners.

Founder and Managing Director Donny Walford said the program helped build networks and confidence among businesswomen in a supportive and safe environment led by a trusted group of mentors.

She said the variety of available groups were tailored to board members, executives, managers, entrepreneurs and executive assistants, making it different from other programs.

“It’s really stretching the way women approach general business and you never know what will be thrown on the table so it’s very supportive and encouraging,” Walford said.

“Everybody needs to have key influences in their career by way of sponsors, coaches or mentors to be able to not only identify where their skills and gaps are in their career progression but to also help open doors and introduce them to key influencers.

“We’re not just about boards, we’re not just about bringing CEOs together, we’re all encompassing – we cover the whole spectrum of a woman’s career.”

According to the Australian Institute of Company Directors, about 23 per cent of ASX 200 board positions are held by women, up from just 8.3 per cent in 2009. Women have comprised 40 per cent of new appointments in 2016 but 20 ASX 200 boards still do not have any female members.

Behind Closed Doors will launch its first groups in the United States in October, which will be led by facilitator Lisa Marie Jenkins.

Walford said the expansion in to the United States would begin with two groups – one for executives and one for entrepreneurs – in the Tampa Bay area before branching out across Florida.

“Then we’ll probably go into Chicago in Illinois,” she said.

“Jakarta’s on the plans and I’ve been encouraged by a couple of women who are returning to work in the UK who are interested in taking Behind Closed Doors over there so I wouldn’t say no to that either and we’d use the same model as we’re using in the US.”

Walford said just over 50 per cent of members came from referrals from other members, facilitators or supporters, about 30 per cent were specifically targeted and 20 per cent of new members were admitted following an expression of interest.

She said since it began in July 2008, 55 per cent of Behind Closed Doors executive members had attained one or more board positions, 32 per cent had received promotions and 25 per cent had been nominated for awards.

“We’ve had huge success with women getting promoted into exec roles or being promoted from exec role to CEO or managing director positions and on to boards,” Walford said.

“The issues we face here are the same issues women in the United States face.”

“The whole vision is around getting more women onto boards and if they’re on boards, chairing boards.

“I believe the best way to get a larger pool is to get more women into executive roles and staying there and more women who are owning and operating their own businesses to grow them, particularly global exports.”

Behind Closed Doors is given support by way of business facilities and meeting rooms in Australia from companies including Telstra, Ernst & Young and BDO.

Walford said Microsoft had signed on to become Behind Closed Doors’ first supporter in the United States.

Behind Closed Doors received funding from the South Australian Department of State Development‘s Export Partnership Program to help it launch in the United States.

Key contacts

Penny Reidy penny@behindcloseddoors.com

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