CIWEM President’s Blog – January 2021

CIWEM President’s Blog – January 2021

“Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?” - Michelle Obama

A President’s Blog takeover from our Early Career Professionals…

Joining a Board as a Trustee provides a great opportunity to support an organisation but it can often be seen as something to do towards the second half of our career. There is so much for organisations to gain from having an inclusive Board with diversity of thought and so I’m delighted that CIWEM created an opportunity for Early Career Professionals to join the Trustee Board for a year. This opportunity gives insight into the workings of a Board, provides a chance to develop new skills and offers the Board a continually fresh perspective.

Matthew Jack was the first Early Career Professional to join the CIWEM Board in 2019 and in September this year we welcomed Sian Leake and Emily Shipton into the role. I was interested to hear their reflections on their experiences so far and their advice to others considering joining a Board and so I’ve asked Matthew, Sian and Emily to write this President’s blog so you can hear from them directly…

What are you hoping to get from your year observing the Board and Matthew, how does this compare to your experience?

Emily- The Water and Environment sector is sadly one of the least diverse industries in the UK. Indeed, another of the sector’s biggest challenges is climate change and, it has been shown that this impacts on certain groups of people disproportionately, such as those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. How can we truly negate these impacts if those people most affected are least represented in the industry?

This is why I joined the CIWEM board; because CIWEM joins the dots up across the industry and has a powerful voice to influence change in the key areas of diversity and climate change. It is a great opportunity for myself and Sian to bring in new perspectives as Early Career Professionals. I may have joined the board in an observational role but I am hoping that I will still be able to contribute to debates and come up with ideas. My aim is to sit on as many of the sub-committees as possible in the year to see what work goes on behind the scenes. In particular, I’ve heard a lot of good work is going on in the diversity and inclusion committee which I hope to get involved in.

In terms of my professional development, it’s also a great opportunity to network with some high-profile people in the industry and learn how boards work. I have been lucky enough to be assigned two trustees from the board as mentors and I am hoping to use their experiences and networks to my advantage. Hopefully all of this will help demonstrate my commitment to CIWEM when it comes to my chartership application as well!!

Sian- Hopefully an in depth understanding of the responsibilities and operations of a Trustee Board which is difficult to gain exposure to during the early stages of my career. Also, an insight into the range of activities that CIWEM undertake and the opportunity to connect into the network of professionals involved in the Institution.

I chose to join as a member of CIWEM as they are one of the leading Institutions in my profession and I am hoping to offer the Board a new perspective as a result of my age, gender and experience of working in another sector. I'm hoping to help CIWEM ensure that as an Institution it is flexible, adaptable and continues to offer a membership service that is appealing to early career professionals like myself.

Matthew- My hope when joining the board was to gain insight and experience into the workings of an organisation such as CIWEM that is rarely afforded to someone of my age and experience. I wanted to build my network and gain exposure to people who have the ability to influence the direction of the industry and policy set out by both industry and the government. As I have said in previous interviews my dream is that my generation can be the first in history to leave the climate, environment and ecological wellbeing of the planet in a better state than that which we found it, I wanted to be part of that and to offer my skills to forward this cause.

Despite having to adapt to the unique ways of working enforced by Covid my expectations have been far surpassed; I have gained invaluable experience and insight as well as meeting and working with exceptional leaders within the industry. The experiences and skills I have gained and evolved in my first year have allowed me to get involved with a grassroots environmental social enterprise local to me, which after my career taking me across Europe and to Africa is something that I had been aiming for a while. A particular highlight has been being asked to contribute a number of articles to The Environment and sitting on the judging panel for UKJWP and YEOTY which have been highly enjoyable experiences. If this is what the first year has been like I relish prospects of the next six now I have begun my first term proper!

What were your expectations of how a Board works?

Sian- Prior to beginning my early career professional role I had very little understanding of the roles of Trustee Board members. Through my first couple of months I am beginning to understand the governance of a Board and its role in supporting the executive team. In particular the important role that Board members play in guiding the strategic direction of the Institution. Beyond strategy and supporting the Executive team, I am learning how the Board ensures that the Institution's operations remain ethical and viable as well as attractive to members.

Emily- Boardrooms are something which feel very far away from my current level of experience. And now suddenly I’m sat around the table of one (albeit virtually!). What happens now? Does the equivalent of Lord Sugar walk in, question your credentials, and then tell you you’re fired?!! Thankfully my expectations weren’t quite as drastic as that but everyone has been incredibly welcoming which has made it less daunting.

Initially, my expectations were that all board members would be involved in all of the fine details. However I’ve learnt that it is the sub-committees which really steer on the fine details. They have a few representatives from the board who then present their findings to the overall trustee board for discussion and a vote when needed. There are also some brilliant employees behind the scenes who do invaluable work to support the CIWEM trustee board. I think it will be really interesting to understand these interactions between the board, presidential team and employees over the coming year.

What do you know now that would have been helpful 12 months ago?

Matthew- The most helpful thing to have known this time last year would have been to buy stocks in hand sanitiser! In seriousness though if I could speak to myself from 12 months ago I would tell myself not to be nervous of speaking up! I will not lie it can be very intimidating to be sat around a table of incredibly high achievers with a huge amount of collective knowledge and experience especially as only five years prior I had been finishing up an apprenticeship. I would tell myself that I am there for a reason and that the rest of the board want a diverse range of opinions and perspectives. It has also helped that from day one the board and the executive made me feel very welcome and I have received nothing but encouragement!I have had an absolutely incredible experience that in turn has led to more opportunities and more incredible experiences and the chance to work with amazing people none of which would have happened if I hadn’t taken the chance.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about applying to join a Board?

Emily- Go for it! Being a trustee is a voluntary role so apply for something you really care about. The point of joining a board is to bring fresh perspective and a steer on things so I would research what the strategy and key challenges are for the board/industry you are applying for, and then come up with your own ideas on how to progress/combat them. Even if these ideas are not adopted by the board, it should make a very positive impression in an interview.

Sian- Apply! It’s a fantastic opportunity to experience first-hand how a Board functions while enabling you to network and make a contribution to the future direction of the Institution.

I hope this has inspired you as much as it has me. The Early Career Professional role is such a superb addition to the CIWEM Board and I’m excited to serve alongside Sian, Emily and Matthew, who’s now joined the Board as a Trustee, over the coming 12 months.As we continue to become increasingly more connected this is a wonderful opportunity for early career professionals around the globe to work alongside CIWEM and develop their skills.

If you’d like to find out more about joining the CIWEM Board or applying for an Early Career Professional position in 2021 subscribe to CIWEM E-News for more details of the applications process.

Niki Roach

CIWEM President 2020-21

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