Pathways to Non-Executive Directorship

As part of our support for the UK wide focus on gender diversity, psd’s Board Practice recently hosted a forum to explore the various pathways for women to non-executive roles.

Elizabeth McMeikan was the key note speaker and is an experienced non-executive director having served on public and private boards across a wide range of industries. She holds an impressive portfolio of non-executive roles, chairing several Board Committees, and is currently the Senior Independent Director of JD Wetherspoon Plc, a FTSE 250 company.  She focused her speech on four crucial stages in the journey to become a non-executive. Planning, understanding your USPs, selecting the right role and transition.

Planning and Preparation

Understand your real motivations. These may include life balance, more control of your time, the opportunity to ‘give something back’, working with new sectors or simply career advancement. However, make sure you consider the financial rewards and your income requirements.

Where do you need to develop skills to ensure success? This may be achieved through bespoke courses, mentoring and coaching. Speak to your mentor(s) and other non-executives to get their opinion on where you could strengthen your skill set.

Keep your end goal in mind. There are different ways to progress with a non-executive role and understanding where you want to take your career will help to focus your learning and development.

Reach out to your network. Head hunters, mentors and other non-executives will be able to share roles, knowledge, and provide valuable insight for a successful plural career.

Know your personal USPs

Establish your USPs. Being clear on how they can add value to a board is key, as your first appointment is likely to be closely linked with the core experience of your career.

Use your emotional intelligence. Your role will be to influence and challenge in a constructive way, and you will be at an advantage as females are often more comfortable using emotional intelligence to judge the right outcome.

Selecting the right roles

Don’t be afraid to say no. Be selective with your choice of roles and always ensure the role adds value to your long term plan.

Due diligence is very important. You should ensure corporate governance and compliance is strong as these are the primary responsibilities of the board and will reflect directly on your reputation when you are considered for other roles.

Are you suited to the culture of the business you will be working in? Third sector businesses can be steered by a greater social purpose meaning that working with these boards is often very different to the commercial sector.

Be open-minded. Your first appointment may not be in sectors closely related to your executive career, industries of particular personal interest or a third sector with a more social purpose.


Be realistic. Your transition to a plural career is a gradual process and you will not be effective if you hold more than one non-executive post whilst also in an executive role.

Are you giving the transition enough time? You will be working with a more complex framework of peers, and potentially new sectors. Don’t underestimate the amount of learning your new role will require, as well as the emotional energy this will take up.

Accept now that you may feel uncomfortable. It will take time for you to settle into the role and understand the dynamics of the board and the business. Work to understand how you need to adapt to ensure you succeed in the role, professionally and personally.

Being proactive is key. Your personal development is important to ensure that you are progressing with your plural career and succeeding in each role. This will take careful planning, learning, and consideration.

Comments from attendees

 “Liz is an inspirational speaker and a great role model”

 …”really sparked an interest!”


If you would like to discuss the next step of your career, please get in touch. We would be very happy to talk through your aspirations and plans for the future.

About the author

Lesley Reynolds | executive recruiter

Lesley Reynolds

Managing Director - Hotels, Leisure & Travel

Lesley heads psd's Hotel, Hospitality, Leisure & Travel sectors at board, senior executive and management level on a global basis. She is very active personally delivering executive search and senior assignments across these sectors.