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How Danusia Malina Derben is shaking up the C-suite industry by reshaping boardrooms into environments where diversity rules

The first best words of advice were from my mother who urged me to “make discipline your friend”. She taught me about the importance of consistent habits that create an order which in turn brings consistency. People trust us when we show up doing what we said we would do.The second best words of advice are […]

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The first best words of advice were from my mother who urged me to “make discipline your friend”. She taught me about the importance of consistent habits that create an order which in turn brings consistency. People trust us when we show up doing what we said we would do.

The second best words of advice are from a quote: “She who risks nothing drinks no champagne”. I’ve tried to find the author but whoever it makes a brilliant point about the need to take risks in order to ‘succeed’.

The third best words of advice are simple yet allude to something of a dying art: “manners cost nothing”…whether in professional or social contexts, manners are needed, agreed?!


Danusia Malina-Derben is a Board & C-suite transformative expert equipping global clients with advanced business leadership prowess. Through her work, she develops top executives & their teams to handle leadership in times of relentless change, deep uncertainty, and immense opportunity. As well as being an authority on all things “C-suite” she is also a mother of ten including “her last baby”, triplets of seven years old. The juncture of working with those at the top of capitalist and patriarchal systems whilst nurturing a super brood means Danusia has unique perspectives on what it is to be a successful working mother.

Danusia is also the founder of School for Mothers. School for Mothers consults with progressive organizations committed to harnessing and retaining the corporate intel, power, and influence of talented mothers at work. School for Mothers also equips ambitious mothers with the skills and support to succeed through training and online courses. As host of the iTunes chart-topping podcast, the School for Mothers Podcast, Danusia offers a new conversation about what it takes to be fulfilled as women, once mothers. She also hosts the School for Fathers podcast, a new podcast exploring modern fathering and the challenge that fathers face as they reposition their role in work, the family and society.

Danusia is arousing and sought-after keynote speaker published author and expert commentator on women’s career success.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Iwas previously a senior tenured career academic in Business Schools in the UK and the USA. Crafting and publishing leadership theories and models was thrilling yet I found there’s even more satisfaction from seeing these same models in action within the business itself. The application of innovative principles to top leadership breeds greatness. And for me professionally, the difference between being a creatrix of leadership theories and implementing them is like the difference between describing chocolate and eating it.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Disrupting homogeneity in boardrooms is crucial work because groupthink, as a result of white elderly males dominating this context, blocks progress. Embedded habits in non-diverse boardrooms include decision making borne from compromise and/or consensus. Although these sound functional, the best collective decisions come from disagreement and contest. Through my years in reshaping boards, I’ve found that independent thought is the cornerstone for engendering growth and, most importantly, efficient decision making.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

Help along the way makes all the difference. I like to differentiate between mentors and sponsors; I have had both. Mentors impart skills gleaned from their experience, sponsors believe in a person so much that they ‘open doors and make useful connections’ to enhance their career growth. As an academic, I published with a clutch of eminent Professors. It’s customary for the most junior academic to do the grunt work on research for, and draft writing of published articles. While this can look (and sometimes feel) exploitative at worse, I found this experience profoundly positive. The trust and faith in my academic capabilities given to me were vast and I stepped up to this mentoring rite of passage. Professor Mark Easterby-Smith and Professor Dick Daft especially mentored in ways I grew from. Sponsors remain key for me. There are oodles of people who believe the consulting work my firm does and the way it’s delivered must happen. Also, in my work as Founder of the School for Mothers movement for ambitious working mothers, women are hearing counter stories about working motherhood. For instance, in the School for Mothers Podcast each episode’s conversation subverts taken-for-granted narratives about women, work and motherhood and therefore these effects change.

Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I met Professor Dick Daft at the British Academy of Management Annual Conference when I was presenting research findings in a paper. This work showcased research cross-cultural methodological innovations in an international Human Resource decision making process research project. He offered me a role beside him which was enormous confirmation as he was ‘King’ of my (our) specialist area, Organisational Behaviour and Development. It was assumed I was childless and could take up a role with few encumbrances whereas the reality was (at the time) I was a mother of five young children. I was able to negotiate a visiting role between both UK and States-based universities and this exposed me to incredible opportunities. Professor Daft helped shape my academic career at a pivotal moment.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The first best words of advice were from my mother who urged me to “make discipline your friend”. She taught me about the importance of consistent habits that create an order which in turn brings consistency. People trust us when we show up doing what we said we would do.

The second best words of advice are from a quote: “She who risks nothing drinks no champagne”. I’ve tried to find the author but whoever it makes a brilliant point about the need to take risks in order to ‘succeed’.

The third best words of advice are simple yet allude to something of a dying art: “manners cost nothing”…whether in professional or social contexts, manners are needed, agreed?!

How are you going to shake things up next?

I’m shaking things up with progressive organizations to solve the “motherhood challenge”. Gender equality is unachievable when mothers are not supported and empowered beyond lactation rooms, flex work and statutory maternity pay. Of course, this links to diversity in the boardroom. You can’t have a board that understands and cares about mothers if no-one has experienced the reality of being a working mother.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

One of my all-time favorite talks is Lidia Yuknavitch’s TED called “The Beauty of Being a Misfit”. Her voice is galvanizing, brilliant and exudes lightning power. One of the reasons why this talk brings deep impact is because Lidia reveals why being a misfit is not something to overcome, but something to embrace fully.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

In all honesty, I’m already inspiring a movement that chimes with my ‘why’ and big purpose. The more I strip away personal ego to serve others, the more influence is possible. I feel privileged to be leading the reshaping of top leadership as well as narratives on motherhood.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s a long and important one by Adrienne Rich: “Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions — predigested books and ideas…marrying early as an escape from real decisions, getting pregnant as an evasion of already existing problems. It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short…and this, in turn, means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us. It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives. It means, therefore, the courage to be “different”…The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies is an immense difference. Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible for ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.”

Response-ability to self is an important lesson and the courage to be different is something any leader has to grapple and make peace with. Adrienne Rich reminds us to be active creators of our lives and this is at the heart of self-leadership.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danusiamalinaderben/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/school.for.mothers.podcast/

School for Mothers Podcast on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/school-for-mothers-podcast/id1440293611?mt=2

School for Fathers Podcast on Apple Podcasts:

https://podcasts.apple.com/ph/podcast/school-for-fathers-podcast/id1484664927

Websites: www.danusiamalinaderben.com

www.schoolformothers.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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