Companies with a commitment to diversity have more success in attracting top talent, improving their customer and employee satisfaction and making better decisions, resulting in better financial performance and long-term value creation. In turn, some shareholders are demanding greater diversity on boards. However, according to the many gender diversity indexes published, the number of women on corporate boards is growing very slowly.
So what can you do to land your first corporate board position? Based on my personal experience, I believe the recipe for success includes three components: your personal efforts, who you know and good old-fashioned luck. The first two are in our control and the last one is not. This can be hard for most us who are driven, goal-oriented women, who feel that if we work hard and smart, we can accomplish our goals. Understanding that our success or failure may actually be out of our control is frustrating but true.
To position yourself as a contender for an open corporate board position you must be known as a leader in your industry with the skillset that boards are looking for. If you haven’t been a corporate executive with public company experience, be prepared to articulate what expertise you have that will be useful to companies. Take on leadership roles on nonprofit or industry association boards and make a name for yourself by being active and engaged. Be prepared to promote yourself and tell your story. And be strategic about letting your colleagues and contacts know that you want a corporate board seat. Don’t sit back and wait to be asked.
In my experience, the most common way a board seat is filled is because of a personal connection. You have the best chance of being considered for a board seat if you know the CEO and/or at least one of the directors on the board. Expanding a board search to individuals outside of the CEO’s and directors’ immediate circles is good governance. The reality is, however, that because board dynamics are so important, the safer addition is someone the team knows and feels comfortable with. The first public company board I joined was one I had worked with closely while serving as a consultant. I knew the CEO and executive leadership and had work history with two of the directors. They knew my skillset, how I thought and behaved and felt comfortable that I was a good fit. Use your network to get to know senior executives and directors. And once a relationship has been established, don’t be shy. Tell them you want to be considered for a board seat when one becomes open.
Joining a corporate board is a long journey built on many years of professional development, leadership roles, reputation building and networking. You can do all of the right things but a vacant board seat is a rare commodity. You must be at the right place at the right time to be considered for the position. Be prepared and patient. And do the work it takes to position yourself to be ready and considered when the opportunity arises.
To learn more about an educational program to support secure corporate board seats, please visit www.sharonlechter.com/2020wob