Scholarship prepares leaders to join company boards

Man and Woman standing together smiling. They are standing in front of a banner that reads 'Making a real difference together'.

Image description: Jason Diederich General Manager at APM Communities and Melissa Noonan CEO of Limbs4Life. 


The first cohort of 22 leaders with disability have completed the Australian Disability Network’s inaugural Directing Change Scholarship program, equipping them to take on senior executive and board leadership roles.

Developed in partnership with the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), the scholarship program aims to increase the number of people with disability on boards.

Launched in April, the Directing Change Scholarship originally sought 15 senior leaders with disability however due to the overwhelming response, the program was extended to include 22 executives.

The winners, chosen from more than 200 applicants, completed AICD courses and will finish their mentoring sessions with board directors by December, to build their capability, confidence and connections for board roles. The scholars also received;

  • a one-year membership to the AICD
  • a subscription to the AICD’s Directorship Opportunities service
  • tailored leadership workshops to support career and leadership progression

Australian Disability Network CEO Corene Strauss said the calibre of the 22 scholars and their mentors exceeded expectations.

“We have been overwhelmed by the interest from leaders with disability and the willingness of directors to become mentors.

“The high calibre of leaders with disability spells a positive outlook for disability inclusion in Australia, should they be appointed to boards. All 22 are incredibly smart, talented and eminently capable human beings.

“And the quality and seniority of the mentors who included chairs and CEOs and so many with a wealth of experience on boards has been very pleasing”

Ross Chaplin described his experience as a Directing Change Scholarship mentee as “life-changing.”

“It has lifted my business acumen to another level,” said Ross, Associate Director and NFP Property Specialist at Franklin Shanks.

“I want to be in a paid position on a board within 3 or 4 years and the scholarship has given me skills to reach that goal.”

Ross said he could scarcely believe his good fortune when he discovered his mentor was former Tabcorp Chief Executive David Attenborough.

“It was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities. David was extraordinarily generous with his time and his contacts. He’s introduced me to other directors and CEOs in different organisations and companies.

David, now a Director of Hostplus, said he and Ross developed a very rewarding and balanced partnership.

“We went on a learning journey process together. Ross is a very strong candidate and I’ve learnt a lot about his perspective and how he copes with the challenges he faces. It’s been a journey where we’ve explored what’s important for him, so I’ve done a lot of listening, understanding and a little bit of coaching. It’s been fascinating, a lot of fun and it also allowed me to learn more about working with people with disabilities.

“One in five people in Australia has a disability but you certainly won’t find one in five board members with a disability, so there’s a lot of work to do.

“There’s a lot that businesses will gain if they can start to reach out and we can start to get proper representations on boards,” David said

Fifi Rashando is the Impact Investment Manager at Good Return, an organisation that removes barriers to finance and enable women and marginalised people to build financial security. She also serves as Executive Committee Member of Australian Disability and Development Consortium and Non-Executive Director of the Leprosy Mission Australia

Fifi applied for the scholarship to sharpen her governance and leadership skills and was thrilled to learn that her mentor was Reserve Bank of Australia’s Chief Financial Officer Emma Costello.

“One of the huge benefits of the program was that it provided the opportunity and privilege to be mentored by a highly experienced, female mentor who had such great knowledge at the executive level,” Fifi said. “It was wonderful for me, as a woman of colour with a disability, to learn from Emma and other Australian leaders on how to navigate my career journey at the governance and leadership levels in Australia’s male dominated field of finance and to inspire them to strategically include people at the bottom of the pyramid, such as women and people with disability in their organisation and clientele.”

In addition to giving leaders with disability the skills and confidence they require to join boards, the Directing Change Scholarship also builds the disability confidence of existing Australian board members who mentor the scholars.  Low awareness, confidence and capability of directors to include people with disability are the main barriers to representation.

Emma Costello said she gained a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by people with disability through her role as a mentor.

“I am embarrassed to reflect now on my biases at the outset.  My beliefs on the adjustments necessary for those with disability (perhaps not in all cases) have been challenged.  I now understand that once those adjustments are made the dis in disability falls away and the discussion is as it would be for anybody.”

“I have met some extraordinary people and have benefited from the training offered by the Australian Disability Network on disability confidence and awareness which I have been able to apply to my Executive and Board roles.

Former Paralympic swimmer Jason Diederich believes the scholarship has given him the confidence and skills to achieve his long-term career goals.

As General Manager, APM Communities Jason reports to the CEO, and occasionally to the APM Board, but he hopes to one day join the APM board.

“The AICD course and mentoring helped me understand the finance, risk and governance obligations of directorships and enabled me to understand those requirements through a board member’s lens

“My mentor, Lynne Anderson, CEO of Paralympics Australia, is brilliant. She showed me how to put it all together and apply the knowledge and skills from the course.

“It’s already helping me in my board role on Limbs4Life.”

Jason said the scholarship can help people with disability overcome the bias they encounter in the workforce.

“I think there is a perception, an unconscious bias, that people with disabilities are less capable. The scholarship provides opportunities for people with disabilities to step up and apply for senior roles by giving them the confidence, contacts and practical skills they need to make that step. Confidence is a key plank in this journey,” Jason said.

Priscilla Brice also believes the Directing Change Scholarship played a key role in her recent appointment as Chief Executive Officer of Being – Mental Health Consumers.

“When I applied for this scholarship I was out of work because I had left my previous role in December and I spent seven months this year unemployed. I did get a feeling that I was knocked back from some jobs because of my disability.

“I just finished the AICD course when I got the job as CEO of Being Mental Health Consumers and I suspect that one of the reasons I was considered for the role was that I was a GAICD and that I understood governance.

The scholarship gave Priscilla an insight into the operational workings of boards of large organisations.

“My mentor (Tuberous Sclerosis Australia CEO Jackie Gambrell) has been incredibly helpful and has opened so many doors for me. The board that she’s on allowed me to go to their audit committee meeting recently which was amazing. Other boards that I’ve been on have been for small organisations so to go to a larger organisation’s meeting and see how it’s run was fantastic.”

Applications for the 2023 cohort open on 24 October 2022. For more information go to Directing Change Scholarship 2023 – Australian Scholarships Foundation

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