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Meet Millicent Wenlock

Grace Jeremy

21 February 2024

Millicent shares an honest account of starting the role, building up the confidence to ask questions and speak up and managing feelings of imposter syndrome

Before applying to become a trustee at the Students’ Union, I had no idea what a trustee was until I started researching for the cover letter. I knew I had been looking for an opportunity to develop my leadership potential and make a difference in the student community for a while, but I had no idea how.

I had massive imposter syndrome, felt inexperienced, and thought trustees couldn’t be my age, neurodivergent or have as little experience in management as I thought I had at the time. I surprised myself when I got the interview offer over a month later, thinking it would never go further than that. Following the interview, on the train down to London for the Undergraduate of the Year Awards, I got the call telling me I was being offered the position. I couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t understand why they picked me, a 20-year-old student who had almost no experience in management or understanding of charity governance.

It wasn’t until I went in for the trustee training and to fill in the paperwork that I plucked up the courage to ask why they had picked me out of all the other candidates. They explained that I brought my experience from volunteering and my lived experience, which got me the role. The board was welcoming, and I quickly picked up on the majority of the role and understanding of the governance. However, gaining the confidence to contribute significantly to discussions took me much longer. I still have imposter syndrome and occasionally feel my insights are overlooked, mainly due to my age.

I had always felt that boards were designed for those over 50, that these positions were inaccessible to me as a young person, and that I’d be laughed at.

There is still not enough diversity representation on charity boards, but it is slowly improving. Having attended the Young Trustee Movement champion training in January, I feel confident in advocating for diversity on boards, and it boosted my confidence in applying for other positions, including recently accepting an offer to join as an advisory board member to Sick in the City CIC. It surprised me that other young trustees were out there and that I was not alone in the imposter syndrome. There were trustee boards out there making changes to recruit more inclusively and increase diversity on their boards.

The key to getting more diverse trustee boards is encouraging open talks with trustees and various diverse recruitment practices. By talking and asking questions, I have had the opportunity to gain confidence and give better advice and responses, which also removes the stigma of getting younger people on trustee boards. At the same time, I still feel a bit of fear when thinking or asking specific questions for fear of it affecting their perception of me. I have done so much self-reflection and self-analysis since I started as a trustee but it doesn’t change the experience. Being a trustee has been so rewarding, but I also find myself looking for others in trustee roles, but there are so few that it can be very disheartening at times. I feel fortunate that the board has been so welcoming and that they were willing to listen.

Here’s my advice to anyone who wants to become a trustee:

  1. Share your experience and seek advice from other board members if you are comfortable.
  2. Learn about finances, charity law and governance, as this will make the transition into the role easier and enable you to make better contributions.
  3. Ask for and give feedback, as this is how they will improve for future trustees.
  4. Accept it as a learning curve, and you will learn so much from it, such as developing your strategic and critical thinking skills.
  5. Ask a more experienced board member whether they would be willing to coach or mentor you.

The key thing to remember is that you are not alone in this experience, but by even applying to be a trustee, you are creating change.

Millicent Wenlock is a student studying for her undergraduate degree and is a trustee at the University of Stirling Students’ Union, where she helps the Students’ Union improve the student experience. She also undertakes several advisory roles, including an inquiry on the disability transition from education to employment with the House of Lords.

Hear more from Milicent on LinkedIn and Instagram 

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