Helga Svendsen is the host of Take On Board, a podcast about women in executive leadership positions in various industries. Through her podcast, Helga is creating a community driven by support, inspiration, and mutual respect among women all over the globe.
In addition to her podcast, Helga is a self-made business owner as a consultant, executive leadership coach, and facilitator. She is on the boards of the Royal Women’s Hospital and the Accident Compensation Conciliation Service and a member of the General Assembly for Greenpeace Australia Pacific. She is a former board member of YWCA Australia, Social Housing Victoria and the former Chair of Centre for Sustainability Leadership.
Read more from Helga Svendsen below and listen to Take On Board here (leave a review, too!):
Tell us what your podcast is about in 3 sentences or less!
Being on a Board can be an interesting, valuable and exciting experience. Yet it can also be lonely, challenging and hard. At Take on Board we bring you weekly tips, tricks and advice to help you navigate your way on to your first or next board and to build your governance wisdom.
What’s a quote or piece of advice that you try to live by?
Never miss an opportunity.
Connector – I can’t resist connecting good women to each other!
One thing on your bucket list:
Hiking in Nepal – it was on my list as one of my first overseas destinations, decades ago. I didn’t make it (ended up in Vietnam instead!), so it’s still on the list!
The theme song to my podcast – “Girl Power!”
Last Text Message You Sent:
It was a picture of some flowers – a colleague gave me some seeds and I wanted to show her what they had grown in to.
What was your first job?
Any unusual hobbies?
It’s not so unusual per se, but perhaps unusual for a lawyer: I used to also be a dance teacher, teaching modern jive (partner dancing).
Biggest Pet Peeve
When people ignore an older person, or a pregnant woman, or someone else that needs a seat on public transport.
What inspired you to start your podcast?
I do a lot of work with women and getting them into board roles. I love podcasts so was looking for one to recommend to clients. I couldn’t find one – so I thought I better start my own!
Tell us more about your work/life outside of your podcast.
I run my own business as a consultant/executive leadership coach/facilitator. I love what I do as I get to work with a range of organisations from private, public and community sector on all sorts of interesting challenges. As part of this work, I have a program to get women on boards (Board KickStarter) and one to support women on boards (Board Accelerator) so having a podcast is a great way to support that community of women. Before running my own business, I have been a lawyer, trade union leader, facilitator at Sustainability Victoria and the CEO of an organisation providing housing and support to people seeking asylum.
What is your show’s USP?
It exists! Before my show I couldn’t find a podcast that focused on women in governance – so I created one myself! (Although it seems a few more have popped up since!). I have more than a decade of experience in governance roles, and I talk to women with experience in governance roles. It’s not theory – it’s the practice of being your best in the boardroom.
Oh, and I have an Australian accent!
What is one of the greatest challenges you have personally faced with your podcast?
Having the idea was easy; making it come to fruition was a lot of work. Oh so many decisions – the name of the show, the music, the artwork. Interviewing people is the easy part! How did I make it happen? I have a fabulous producer who kept me focused until it happened! A time I screwed up? When I did my “20 tips to Take on Board in 2020” episode (see below) – we discovered just a couple of hours before it went live that I had missed tip #11! We decided to roll on with the show and hope no-one noticed (and, if they did, then the tip would be “attention to detail” and congratulate them on having it!). No one has noticed yet – or, at least, not that I’m aware of (but if this gets published that might change that)!
What was one of your favorite episodes you’ve ever done? Why does it stand out?
This is so hard! It’s like having to choose your favourite child! So, to get around that, I am going to choose “20 tips to Take on Board in 2020” which was an amalgam of the first six months of tips.
What is one thing you have accomplished with your podcast thus far that you are most proud of?
Creating a community of like-minded women – finding us through the podcast, and then moving in to the Take on Board Facebook group. It’s such a wonderfully supportive place for women to share opportunities and challenges.
What is one major milestone that you would like to accomplish through your podcast in the next year?
I would love love love to have Julia Gillard on the podcast – the former Prime Minister of Australia (and the first woman prime minister), host of A Podcast of Ones Own, Chair of Beyond Blue. She is an incredibly smart, strong, resilient woman. She would oh-so-much to share with the Take on Board community. I think it’s a long shot – but I’d love to give it a go!
What is one of the best pieces of podcast-related advice you’ve ever received & why?
Get a producer! There’s no way I would be able to do all the magic that my producer does. Without her, it simply would never have happened.
What is one of the worst pieces of podcast-related advice you have ever received & why?
“Oh, it won’t take up too much of your time …”
What are some of your favorite women-hosted podcasts (besides your own)?
A Podcast of Ones Own (Julia Gillard); BizChix (Natalie Eckdahl); Where Shall We Begin (Esther Perel), Chat 10 Looks 3 (Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb), Making Positive Psychology Work (Michelle McQuaid) and Songlines (Dr Lynne Kelly).
Can you tell us about a time when you took a huge risk/did something you were scared to do, and it totally paid off?
I still clearly remember when, in my late 20s, I quit my job to go overseas for a year. It was like a late gap year. I travelled with my sister for the first few weeks, and I distinctly remember when she returned home I spent some of the most miserable days of my life in Bangkok. I kept thinking, “what have I done?! I’ve quit my job, I’ve left my house, I’ve left everyone I know – I feel lonely and sad and crazy”. Somehow I got through those days – I knew that if I could just get myself on the plane to Athens – the next stop – I would feel better.
I got myself on the plane to Athens, and met a wonderful woman on the airport bus into Athens. We went to a hostel together, and then walked up to the top of the Acropolis. And I remember having those same thoughts – I’ve left my home, my job, my people – but with the complete opposite feeling. It was a feeling of “I can do anything, be anyone – I have money in the bank, a ticket for a year – complete freedom to be whoever I want and whatever I want. The world is my oyster”. That feeling of freedom was amazing. I had a fabulous year of travels and, looking back, wouldn’t swap it for anything even though I spent a house deposit on it!
Are there any great podcast-related resources you love that you would like to share?
Is there a charity or cause you care about that you would like to share?
Many! I have been on the board of YWCA Australia and think it’s a fabulous organisation. I am also on the General Assembly for Greenpeace Australia Pacific. I support many not for profit organisations such as the Human Rights Law Centre, East Timor Heart Foundation, Environment Victoria, Fair Agenda – there’s oh-so-many more!
How do you feel you’re making a positive impact and generating change through your podcast?
I do this podcast because I love bringing great women together – so I feel I am not only sharing the stories of those on the pod, but also building a community of awesome women who are inspired and supported in their governance career. We are stronger together.