Advice for ladies seeking board appointments

Photos courtesy of Steve Wilson on Flickr

Photos courtesy of Steve Wilson on Flickr

Rob Swystun, Pristine Advisers

This one is for the ladies.

Specifically, it’s for ladies who aspire to sit on corporate boards. It’s a how-to guide, courtesy of Forbes’ Deborah L. Jacobs, on how women can get those lucrative board positions, even though corporate culture is stacked against them.

How stacked?

Among-the-S&P-100-women-occupy-just-19%-of-the-board-seats stacked. Those numbers come from a study conducted last year by mutual fund company Calvert Investment Management.

And these board positions are lucrative. Can you think of any other side gigs that potentially pay out $100,000 per year in cash and stock? That’s more than most people’s main jobs.

And, as Jacobs says, aside from the not-so-filthy lucre, these positions can expand horizons, present intellectual stimulation and provide “retired” people with meaningful work.

And while boards — in the interests of having a modicum of diversity — will snatch up high-profile female entrepreneurs and female Fortune 500 CEOs, other accomplished ladies who are interested in a board position will typically find themselves on the outside looking in … unless they have connections.

So, here is Jacobs’ advice, gleaned from speakers and audience members at the recent Women Corporate Directors Global Institute in New York.

Start young

In your 30s and 40s, get involved with non-profit boards and company activities and start cultivating political connections. This will allow you to meet people who are themselves on boards.

Boards want people who have experience being accountable for the profits and losses of a company (P&L experience) and this is typically experience you’d only get by being a high-level executive. This poses a problem, though, because women, as noted previously, are underrepresented in the C-suite. Getting involved with non-profit boards and making connections with other types of organizations will grow your network of contacts and allow you get some of that coveted P&L experience.

Bond with older colleagues who can help you out. Jacobs recommends eschewing mentoring relationships and instead focusing on “reverse mentoring” relationships. That is where the younger person mentors the older person by introducing them to emerging technology and giving their youthful perspective on business matters.

Be strategic

Acquire marketable expertise, Jacobs says. Knowledge of digital technology, the regulatory environment and executive compensation are all in popular demand, but the expertise alone will not lead to board invitations. That requires the aforementioned networking. Generally, you won’t get a board position unless someone on the board knows you or is connected to someone who can vouch for your qualifications, preparation and ability to work well with others.

Large nonprofit boards, like university trusteeships or prestigious arts organizations, are a good place to meet people who also sit on the boards of public companies.

Help the headhunters

Recruiters are often employed to vet potential candidates that a board is considering. Make their job easier by identifying something in your bio that they can sell. Jacobs gives the example of experience with cost-cutting at a company during a transition and preparation for sale as something that would add value to your resume and make you look desirable for a board position.

Create digital footprints

Networking in this day and age, of course, means doing so online. LinkedIn is the obvious choice for business purposes such as this. Those digital connections can be just as valuable as away-from-keyboard connections.

Go global

International experience — particularly in Asia — is also in demand. That could mean an international posting, extensive overseas business travel, responsibility for foreign markets or someone who understands the culture and consumers and has on-the-ground experience. Knowing multiple languages is always a plus.

Bank on a startup

If you have the cash to invest in a startup, it may give you the clout to insist on a board seat. Cash-strapped startups are likely going to at least be open to the proposition. You may also want to check into Onboard Boot Camps, which helps women and minorities join corporate boards.

Get even more educated

Take an accreditation program for non-executive directors from a major university or organizations like INSEAD, the National Association of Corporate Directors or Financial Times.

Host a schmoozefest

These events, meant to get directors and potential directors together, are akin to “speed dating corporate directors,” Jacobs says. In the example she gives, Theo Schwabacher, a wealth manager with Morgan Stanley in San Francisco,  invited 75 members of the WCD Northern California chapter to her event and requested that they bring their favorite director along. The event took place at exclusive San Francisco club Villa Taverna and included booze (of course) and hors d’oeuvres. The room had tables arranged by topic and organized so guests could circulate around the room easily and, well, schmooze. That particular event resulted in at least eight interviews and two major board appointments.

The sad truth is that ladies who are after board seats have to work twice as hard and network twice as much as their male counterparts. But done diligently, all that work and networking can pay dividends with those lucrative board spots. Good luck.

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One response to “Advice for ladies seeking board appointments

  1. Pingback: Making female board participation make sense (with dollars and cents) |·

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