Favourites with Virginia Bourke FAICD

Friday, 01 March 2024

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Susan Muldowney

    Candid conversations with directors on the interests and insights that have shaped their careers.

    Favourite early career lesson?

    Changing direction in your career can be liberating. I’ve had a non-linear career, which has served me well. I started my career in family law and didn’t like it at all, so I left the profession to study English literature and also took on management roles in the private sector. I eventually came back to law and, when board positions started opening up for me, I found the relationship aspects of governance, and helping a board of directors work well together were my strong suit. I’ve learned that changing your career can actually build your career.

    Philosophy on work-life integration?

    I don’t subscribe to a work-life balance theory. At different times in your life, you have very intensive periods of work and of family life. The sooner you accept that at different times you’ll be pulled in different directions, the sooner you can accept you can’t do everything. When my children were growing up, my family came first and I built my work arrangements around the care of young children. I don’t believe the work of caring is the biological imperative of women, so it’s important men are encouraged and enabled to care for their children. I’ve seen a change in that dynamic.

    Favourite productivity hack?

    I love productivity books. The best I’ve read is Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. It explores the idea of accepting that time is finite and becoming more productive can actually mean you just get more work. So, I’ve probably focused less on productivity techniques in recent times and more on where I direct my efforts, given that time is finite and I’m not going to get everything done. That said, my biggest productivity win has been my reMarkable digital notebook. I’m also an early riser and always have a to-do list on the go.

    Current governance issue occupying your thoughts?

    Right now, it’s climate governance, in particular how developments in ESG and mandatory reporting, which apply in the private sector, will be translated and implemented in the NFP sector.

    Favourite prediction for the future of leadership?

    The emphasis on people who can understand emotion and the part it plays — not just in personal interaction, but in decision-making — means that leadership is opening up to a wider group of people. We’re in quite an interesting time for leadership. It’s mostly about how we manage change, and people who can negotiate rapid change have to be very good at persuasion and motivation. These are qualities that in the past were perhaps not as valued as displaying commercial acumen or personal confidence.

    Secret to a good night’s sleep?

    I’m the last person to be giving advice on how to get a good night’s sleep, it’s not my strength. But I have a rain sound app on my phone that helps.

    Favourite book or TV show?

    I love a character-driven drama like The Bear TV series. I’m also interested in the books of Elizabeth Jane Howard, a British writer I’ve only recently discovered. Her book, The Long View, is a recent favourite. I also like the work of Australian playwright and screenwriter Tony McNamara. He wrote The Favourite and created The Great series.

    Favourite DIY project?

    I love garden projects — the design aspect, but also weeding. And I recently stained all the decks at our holiday house — it nearly killed me!

    Virginia Bourke FAICD is a speaker at the 2024 Australian Governance Summit in Melbourne, 20–21 March. bit.ly/4bBjaFw

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