Woman has gone from cleaning cutlery to working on peacebuilding here in NI
When Adriana Morvaiova arrived in Belfast International Airport from Slovakia with her mother in 2005, they had no plan or expectations of what their future in Northern Ireland would be.
Armed with two suitcases and no ability to speak English, the pair were taken in by a friend until they found their feet.
“I knew someone who moved to Antrim nine months prior and he said, ‘You can stay with me for a couple nights. But after that, you’re right on your own,’” Adriana explains.
Once settled and still unable to speak English, Adriana started her first job polishing cutlery in a local restaurant, a period she believes helped carve out her drive and passion to give back to her local and wider community.
“I remember my very first job in a local restaurant and how inclusive the community was,” says the 37-year-old.
“They spent their time teaching me English and were continuously inviting me out on the weekends.
“I was always helped and surrounded by the community and that has stayed with me for the years. I thought that it was my time to give back to the community by volunteering and give my time to a cause that I care about.”
With that special memory in mind, Adriana began working towards getting involved with the equality and peace building sector, something she was able to get to grips with thanks to her place on the 2019/20 Boardroom Apprentice programme.
“Through my successful application to the Boardroom Apprentice, I was placed with the Equality Commission for 12 months,” she says.
Adriana got the green light from her employer, global industrial technology company, Sensata Technologies, for time away from her role to complete the year-long programme.
Founded by Eileen Mullan in 2017, the Boardroom Apprentice is a board learning, development and placement programme which enables those who would like to serve on a public or third sector board to learn and gain experience before they take that step.
Each candidate must attend a number of set training days on topics such as finance and governance and also complete a boardroom placement on a board of their choice, picked by both Eileen and a selection of former apprentices.
For Adriana, her time in the programme gave her the increased confidence and self-belief that would help her reach heights in her career.
“My life has improved significantly since the Boardroom Apprentice. I knew it was going to be a challenge and all my expectations were exceeded and met,” she says. “It was an accelerator for me to understand what I wanted from my career or what I needed to do with my strengths and weaknesses.”
From budgeting to balance sheets, Adriana benefitted from the finance training aspect of the programme, something of which she previously had zero experience.
“I gained transferable skills which I was able to revert back to my employer and I now am able to work with budgets.”
Throughout her 12 months, she met individuals who helped shape her experience of overseeing a board that has an influence on society.
“I was assigned a boardroom buddy, Geraldine McGahey, who is now the chief commissioner,” reveals Adriana.
“I attended all the board meetings as an observer which means you can ask questions and contribute and you have an insight into everything from finance, strategy to social media engagement.”
When reflecting on her journey, it’s the long-lasting effects of the Boardroom Apprentice programme to which Adriana feels indebted.
Shortly after the programme ended, she accepted her first board position with Mediation Northern Ireland charity with focused activities on conflict resolution and peace-building.
“I am very confident that it’s all down to the Boardroom Apprentice. I have no formal education and no previous experience as I was working in admin for an engineering company at the time when I applied,” she explains.
“I was able to use the Boardroom Apprentice learning on my application form and I believe that was the only reason why I had a chance to interview.
“Not only does the programme help to change the course of an individual’s career, it seeks to enable a wider diversity of individuals within boardrooms across Northern Ireland and challenge preconceived stereotypes of boardroom make-up. Through the Boardroom Apprentice, you quickly learn that diversity is more than just the physical looks. We learned that diversity means age, education, background, experiences, neuro-diversity, disability, skin colour.
“The programme is extremely important because if you look at the current breakdown of boards, it’s quite homogenous, white and male-orientated but the Boardroom Apprentice programme challenges this as it attracts people from all walks and backgrounds of life.”
Adriana’s message to those thinking of applying to the Boardroom Apprentice is one of encouragement, as she appeals to anyone to get involved as long as they understand the commitment and dedication it takes to complete.
“Before you apply, you have to understand that it requires commitment, time and effort to do this. You need to make sure you are fully committed,” she adds.
“This programme can be beneficial for not just you as a person, but everybody around you. When you become a better person, you’re serving your community and your employer is getting a better version of you.
“It’s probably the best thing I did for myself and it will change you as a human. You will definitely become a better person by the end of that programme.”
Applications for Boardroom Apprentice close on Tuesday, May 24. See boardroomapprentice.com/how-to-apply/