March is Women’s History Month. I’m betting you will see plenty of articles about the (continuing) dearth of women on Corporate Boards, why it’s good for companies to have more women on their Boards and then asking why don’t corporations have more women on their Boards? Yes – progress is still slow.
In 2018, 22% of Board Directors were women; women of color accounted for only 4% of Board Directors in the Fortune 500. In 2019, according to Catalyst, (the global non-profit that works to help build workplaces that work for women) there were no all-male Boards in the S&P 500! All of the companies have at least one woman director. S0 – progress.
There are many organizations that intend to help women get on Corporate Boards. These organization are made up primarily of women and I urge you to examine them and the number of women they have assisted in getting on Corporate Boards (annually), how long the campaign for each woman took to achieve success, and what percentage of their membership accomplished that goal.
Here is my (admittedly anecdotal) take on the topic.
Joining a Corporate Board should be strategic career decision. Ask yourself “How does joining a Corporate Board align with my career goals?”
A Corporate Board seat is a chance to display your expertise and also learn through the exposure to the tactical, legal and business issues that a Board deals with. It offers opportunities to improve your understanding of corporate strategy and decision making. And depending on where you land, you might learn about a whole new industry.
A seat on a Corporate Board can provide a chance to learn from fellow board members and corporate management. The opportunities for networking are huge. Developing good relationships with Board colleagues can increase your professional reach in ways that can have big future pay offs.
Joining a Board can provide financial benefits through compensation, stock awards and extra payments for meeting attendance and committee service.
Being a Corporate Board member is not all sunshine and rainbows! There is an expectation that you make a substantial time commitment (anywhere from 20 to 40 days a year per board) including governance and committee needs. Add in time for travel to and fro in addition to preparation, committee work, research, reviews of strategic items, and getting up to speed on the company and its competitive environment – it can be much more than you bargained for.
Board members are exposed to legal liability stemming from decisions made and action taken as a company leader. You have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of the shareholders which means you might be vulnerable to being sued. While Board members are usually protected from financial liability – it can be a highly stressful experience.
IT’S FOR ME
If you have given this a great deal of thought and decided that you want to pursue a Corporate Board seat, here are some things you can do:
Get a Megaphone – Promote yourself. Let others know about your contributions, expertise, the value you’ve created in your professional endeavors, and let people who ARE on a Corporate Board know that you want to be on a Corporate Board.
Cultivate Relationships – Executive leadership is an uber-networked world and most of the Board members I know have earned their positions through existing connections. Reach out to folks you know that are already on the Board of a company where you’d like to serve. Reach out to executives you know who may be able to connect you to executives they know. Look for things you have in common: similar causes you support, the same alma mater, or serving on nonprofits in the same sector. LinkedIn can be a good tool so keep all your contacts current, and start posting.
Have Expertise – Expertise in needed or new areas like cybersecurity or AI gets people’s attention. Those who know the ins and outs of analytics or developing supply chains are attractive to a Board seeking to access that expertise.
Baseline Entry Requirements – Boards oversee how a company is run so the expectation is that the Board members have that necessary background. Corporate Board members either need to have run a company or have been responsible for running a division of a company that is large enough to have a sophisticated P&L sheet. While membership on a nonprofit Board is useful in showing an understanding of the role of the Board, it is not seen as similar to running a for-profit company. There may also be a requirement that you purchase stock. (Depending on the company that can be a sizable amount of money)
Serving on a Corporate Board can allow an unmatched professional experience. Even more important, you can make contributions to the success of an organization.
Best of all, once you get on a Corporate Board, you can hold the door open and invite other women to become a member.