Interview with our vice chair Shoko Doherty
13 March 2024

Interview with our vice chair Shoko Doherty

Shoko Doherty, chief executive officer at Celtic English Academy in Cardiff, talked to us about her journey to becoming a board member and shared her views on representation in UK ELT.

Shoko is currently vice chair of the English UK Board of Trustees and sits on our Representation, Inclusion, Diversity and Engagement Committee (RIDEC).


Can you share your journey to becoming a board member at English UK?

I decided to stand for the English UK board election when I was 32.

My path to the board was shaped by my experiences as an international student who came to the UK to study English for six months before starting my degree.

Being a young, Japanese woman and non-native English speaker brought its challenges, but it was crucial for my journey. The lack of representation from devolved nations at the time, combined with my unique perspective as someone who ran a language centre in Cardiff, made me feel that I could contribute something to the diversity of thought within the board. 

It's true, the thought of going through the election and then being a board member was a bit daunting. I was young, felt a bit out of my depth with my professional experience, and worried that I might not express myself as intelligently in English as native speakers. However, some peers encouraged me to stand, and once I joined the board, I was reassured that I could learn and contribute in a positive way, which has been really rewarding.

In what ways do you believe your unique perspective has contributed to the board's decision-making and overall diversity?

I'm aware and feel a bit conflicted about saying 'I represent an ethnic minority or am a young female' because I wouldn't want someone to choose me just for my background rather than what I can bring with my skills and experience.

Being a non-native speaker and young, I had many doubts about myself. However, I believe my journey from an international student to a board member has given me a deep insight into what our students go through, which has enriched my input to the board.

My professional view from Wales has also helped me push for policies and initiatives that are inclusive and truly reflect our diverse UK ELT community. 

What advice would you give young professionals, especially women, who might be hesitant to pursue leadership roles?

Drawing from my own transition from a student to a leadership role, I encourage you to view your unique experiences as invaluable assets.

Your diversity of thought and perspective is crucial for innovation and growth within any organisation or sector. Embrace your journey, and don't shy away from leadership opportunities—your voice can drive significant change.

Can you discuss any systemic or personal barriers you've encountered and how you overcame them?

I feel I have been lucky not to be affected by systemic barriers that might have affected others. In some ways, I have been given more opportunities because of my background.

I know it's not always the case, and I feel responsible as the vice chair of the English UK Board of Trustees to actively encourage and advocate for those under-represented colleagues to take opportunities. 

As a mother of three young children and running my own business, I'm acutely aware of the challenges in balancing personal and professional responsibilities, especially for women, with so many things to juggle every day. Yet, being on the board has been so rewarding, knowing I've made a difference to our member centres, students, and the wider sector.

Lack of confidence is a huge issue, I feel. To address this, I've sought out mentors and coaches, and I'm continuously working on myself. Building a supportive network and staying committed to my goals have been crucial in overcoming these challenges. 

These experiences have taught the value of resilience and the need to create supportive environments for others on similar journeys.

What changes would you like to see in the representation of diverse groups within leadership roles in the next 5-10 years?

I hope to see more inclusive leadership that mirrors the diversity of our global community, not just in terms of ethnicity and gender but also in terms of educational backgrounds and life experiences.

How do you think you could empower other potential candidates from underrepresented backgrounds to stand for election?

By sharing my story — from being an international student to becoming a board member — I hope to inspire and empower others from underrepresented backgrounds. If I could become vice chair of the board in my 30s, then anyone can achieve their goals with a supportive network, self-belief, and determination...!

I'm committed to promoting inclusive policies. I also would love to offer mentorship, emphasising the significance of diverse leadership that resonates with our wide varieties of membership and the broader UK ELT community.

However, I must balance this aspiration with my existing commitments. That said, I'm always open to conversations and happy to share insights with anyone interested in making a difference.

English UK board elections 2024

Four seats on our board of trustees are up for election this May. 

Do you know someone who could make a positive impact the English UK Board of Trustees? 

Find out about the board election process.

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