Guest blog

How I developed a paid board portfolio career whilst looking after young children: Lisa Tennant’

Lisa Tennant opens up about being selected for several non executive director roles in her 30s, taking babies to work and working with MI5 as part of a portfolio career.

“I am not a typical non-executive,” Lisa admits, especially in making the move into a ‘portfolio career’ comprised of a variety of public and private sector board roles in her 30s is unusual. However, it allowed her to continue working at a senior, strategic level whilst offering a level of flexibility in hours that enabled her to achieve the work-life balance she desired.

Flexibility in hours was a key driver to move into non-executive work ‘full time’ for Lisa Tennant, a member of the supportive Women on Boards network of over 20,000 ambitious women (and some men!). She explains, “When my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I realised I wanted to be around to care for him. But the hours in my executive job simply didn’t allow that.”

Lisa left her full-on job and started applying for more non-executive roles to add to the NHS board post she had been squeezing in on top of her day job. Whilst board and potentially committee meeting dates are fairly inflexible, they are relatively infrequent and usually set far in advance. The rest of the role is highly flexible – liaising with the senior executive team, visiting the ‘frontline’ of the organisation and preparing for meetings can be largely arranged around your schedule.

With her varied, entrepreneurial background Lisa secured a range of board roles – including the Ombudsman Services, Firstport, the Scottish Land Fund and more.  Do not underestimate this achievement – Lisa is clear gaining non-executive posts requires commitment and persistence, estimating she applied for around 15 roles for every 1 she secured. “Take all the support available from organisations like Women on Boards,” Lisa recommends. Women on Boards not only offers free advice on making board applications but also provides 1-on-1 application support and a cross-sector Vacancy Board to our full subscribers.

Lisa went on to have two children whilst maintaining her non-executive portfolio.

“I’ve been pregnant, breast-fed, taken babies to work,” she explains, “and I have experienced some discrimination in that. But things are changing. And I’m helping to change them by showing that it can be done.”

Although the financial compensation is generally lower than executive work at a similar level, Lisa Tennant considers the variety in her portfolio to be a huge benefit to her personally. “I can honestly say no two days are the same,” she says. She describes how her board work has involved touring a remote Scottish island with just five inhabitants, viewing controlled explosions on a firing range, working with MI5 and as well as the more typical activity of ‘getting the train down to London to sit in board meetings’.

You can listen to our full interview with Lisa Tennant in our podcast series. Search and subscribe to ‘Women on Boards: Success Stories’ on all major apps.

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