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Ruth Sacks is head of the Women for the Board programme at Westminster Business School in the UK. Launched in January 2014, the programme is designed for women targeting a board level role and covers topics such as governance, politics in the boardroom, finance, power, emotional intelligence and how to build and maintain resilience.
Ms Sacks is actively involved in promoting initiatives that support women aiming for board level careers. She has a masters in organisation development from Sheffield Business School, a doctorate in business administration from Nottingham Business School and previously worked as a management consultant.
1. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
It was from my headteacher at grammar school. When asked to give me a reference [for university], she stated that she did not think I was capable of studying for a degree. I took this as a challenge and set out to prove her wrong.
2. What do you enjoy about working at a business school?
My role is divided between teaching on postgraduate programmes and developing new opportunities. I enjoy being able to work with organisations to find out how Westminster Business School can work with them and meet their needs. I also like working with students to support their development.
3. Why do think it is important to have a programme like ‘Women for the Board’?
Although many women are well qualified to be appointed to boards, these are still predominantly male-dominated. Providing women with the access to development opportunities that ensure that they have the knowledge, competencies and in particular the confidence to enter such a competitive environment is an essential step in closing the gender gap and increasing the number of women in executive roles.
4. What would you do if you were dean for the day?
I would have two hats – into one I’d put names of all the teaching and management staff and into the other all the administrative and support staff. By randomly pairing them each would have a whole day of shadowing and sharing in the work of the other. I hope this would encourage more understanding of what we all do to contribute to the work of the business school.
5. What is the worst job you have ever had?
Teaching in a warehouse where they made shrouds for coffins. The rolls of silk were everywhere and I just found it very spooky. I didn’t stay very long.
6. What is the best job you have ever had?
Working at the headquarters of the UN in New York for all that it represents and for the amazing multicultural multinational environment that it is. I was working with senior managers from different departments on developing new ways of working to deliver projects.
7. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
You have to accept what happens and try to make tomorrow better or different. Recognising that not everyone has the same views and agreeing to disagree is sometimes the best you can get.
8. What are your top tips for networking?
Networking does not have specific times to happen. Indeed sometimes, non-networking focused meetings are often better as you may make connections about non-work related subjects and then serendipity has a way of influencing what happens next.
9. How you deal with male-dominated environments?
Challenging the status quo is part of change management, an area in which I have worked for most of my life. Skills and expertise are frequently more important than gender. However, ensuring there is a diverse group from which to draw expertise is important and the challenge for that reason has and will for me remain to be at the forefront of creating a good place to work. Making sure that the best people for the job are involved in a project is always, as far as I am concerned, pivotal for its success.
10. If you could do it all again what would you do differently?
I would probably travel further and wider than Europe, learn at least one more language and see what opportunities come up. I would like to live outside Europe and learn more about organisations in other countries. There is still time for this to happen – I haven’t finished my professional career yet.
This article was subsequently amended to say Ms Sacks has a doctorate in business administration.