Scoping Out Career Growth Through Volunteering

Throughout the training and support we offer at Career Women Wales I stress to all staff and participants how pivotal volunteering is to develop your career.  I just found out that I’m a finalist in the Womenspire Awards, devised by Chwarae Teg.  For the first time in, well, forever, I was speechless.  Just for a few minutes, but yes, me, who earned the nickname ‘Zippy’ as a child lost for words!

You can see my name here, next to people like Joyce Watson AM, who has been an Assembly Member since the inaugural elections in 1995 and Leanne Wood AM, Leader of Plaid Cymru.  Let’s not be British about it, I urge you all to celebrate your successes.

So, what is my role in public life?  In 2012 I joined the Board of the Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales, and in 2013 was elected as Co-Chair.  At the time WEN Wales was a relatively new charity, set up to ensure the voices of all women and girls in Wales were being heard by decision makers. 

In my role as Chair Person I have built the experience to lead the strategic direction of an organisation, set out a vision for success and encourage others to share it, represent an organisation to Cabinet Ministers, and recruit and manage senior staff members.  The first time I went along to a meeting I was nervous, lacked confidence in my ability and wondered what worth I could bring to a Board.  Typical female traits of self-sabotage.  Who knew then it would lead to awards, or founding and running a business?

Joining a Board is daunting, there’s a new vocabulary to learn (acronyms argh!), a team to settle in with and an organisation to learn – all on top of whatever your day job may be.  I was lucky enough to become part of a Board where the other members coached, encouraged and empowered me to gradually take on responsibilities, such as Adele Baumgardt, the Co-Chair at the time, who had been working with Sport Wales on a strategy to increase the number of women on Boards.

Before being on a Board I’d had a number of interesting volunteer roles, taking part in the Active Citizens programme with the British Council, where I got to travel and meet women in politics after the Arab Spring in Egypt, and have always been the leader organising fundraising events for a range of charities.  It isn’t all glitz and glamour, some of it meant counting grubby coins before banking donations, taking annual leave to help organise events instead of going on restful holidays or spending Saturday mornings drafting funding bids.  

But what all of these roles and tasks have taught me is that experience and networks are the key.
•    Without fundraising I wouldn’t have had the experience to organise and run events – which has been a key part of many jobs.
•    Without joining the Active Citizens programme I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to develop my skills and gain qualifications to teach adults.
•    If I hadn’t put myself forward to become Co-Chair of WEN Wales I wouldn’t have had the confidence, skills and most importantly, network of supporters to have set up Career Women Wales.
•    Most of all, I wouldn't have realised that my values and passion were ignited when I’m doing something which helps others to have opportunities.

Sometimes, our day jobs don’t allow us to gain all the skills we believe we need to take the career journey we want, but it doesn’t mean that the opportunities aren’t there to seize.  Go do it, put yourself forward (check out the Presiding Offer’s WiPL portal for opportunities) and help others whilst also helping your career.