Poonam Majithia: My year on the board thanks to the Vikki Orvice Memorial Director Development Scheme

13 July 2020

Poonam Majithia: My year on the board thanks to the Vikki Orvice Memorial Director Development Scheme

Poonam Majithia (centre), joins fellow Women in Football board members at her first meeting

When Women in Football launched the Vikki Orvice Memorial Director Development Scheme in 2019, Poonam Majithia was just about to start her new role as Legal Counsel at Chelsea FC.

The Scheme was set up in memory of Vikki, one of the founder members of WiF and a trailblazer for women working in the game.

The concept behind it was simple - to help one individual develop the skills necessary so that they could seek a board position by working closely with ours for one year.

Poonam went through a rigorous selection process before she was confirmed as the inaugural winner. Following an induction with CEO Jane Purdon and an invite to watch the Chelsea v Tottenham WSL match, she took her place at her first-ever Women in Football board meeting.

Listening and learning

"I'd met the chair, Ebru [Köksal] previously  on one of WiF’s Leadership Courses," says Poonnam. "I knew of Jane through various sports law events where I think on one occasion we talked for probably a couple of minutes, but didn't know her properly until the Director Development Scheme.

"I remember thinking that a full day was a really long time for a board meeting, but it went by so quickly as there was so much to discuss.

"Initially, I just tried to take in as much as possible by observing, listening and learning. I read the pre-board meeting papers and tried to absorb the information to get an understanding of how it all works.

"The first board meeting was actually setting out what the key topics were going to be for the following 12 months, and so it was very useful to be in those discussions from the start.

"The way the board worked was a real eye-opener, getting into the detail of each topic."

Although she was a quiet observer at first, Poonam says that her confidence to contribute vocally in meetings quickly grew and was helped by the encouragement she received from her fellow board members.

"I have attended five board meetings over the year so far and although I didn't contribute very much at the start, I felt more comfortable in time to provide an opinion," she adds.

Use your voice

"One of the main things about this opportunity is getting the confidence to feel that you can work at that, more senior, level and make a difference. In the beginning I was a bit "They [the board members] are all so amazing", and yes, they still are, but I've learned that my voice and opinion is just as valid and considered just as important by them.

"I didn't really want to say anything at first in case they thought it was really silly, but then realised that actually no-one was ashamed or embarrassed to say what they were thinking. Yes, there might have been disagreements, but everyone's voice was heard and listened to.

"Everyone has different ways of leading and influencing - some are more vocal and others like me are naturally quiet in a big group of people. But those that are not as vocal are just as influential in different ways and that became apparent.

"As the months went on and I became more familiar and understood the business better I contributed more and more, and that in turn really helped my confidence."

Top tips

For Poonam, the Scheme has been both enjoyable and beneficial, and she urges women to not shy away when such opportunities arise, offering these two tips.

"Firstly, when you come to apply really think about how you could add value and how your attributes and experience can benefit the organisation," she says. "Have a clear idea about what projects you can do, what can you achieve in your year.

"Secondly, don't worry about coming across as 100 per cent polished. Schemes such as Women in Football's are looking for someone with potential and not the finished article. The whole point is to give participants the skills, the chance to observe and the opportunity and confidence to put themselves forward for a more senior position."

The future

Now that her year on the Vikki Orvice Memorial Director Development Scheme is coming to a close, Poonam will continue to be actively involved with the organisation in other ways.

She has already helped host some of our virtual fireside chats and round robin table discussions - and is looking forward to more.

"Hosting the sessions during the Covid-19 pandemic have been so rewarding," she adds.

"Everyone has been going through a tough time these past few months and having a one-hour lively discussion with others in the industry, to have helped facilitate that, has been a wonderful opportunity too."

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