I had the honor of speaking April 17, at the Alumni Dinner of The Leadership Foundry Program. It was a night filled with networking (with friends, of course), new and old, and learning about what to expect when trying to get on a corporate board.
Our topic: how do women get on corporate boards?
After a brief introduction of Levia Partners and our mission, we had a candid discussion about how any person claims the coveted board seat. Direct solicitation is generally considered as too aggressive and may even be offensive. Typically the board works to find directors independently. If they choose to use a recruiting consultant, it is mostly to build a short list of candidates for them to consider. So to help you get on that shortlist you will want to rely on your network and mentors to do the promoting for you.
As a starter, any person seeking a board seat must understand how to analyze strong financial statements. Your ability to do this well is fine tuned as you run your own company, participated in mergers and/or acquisitions, work for a public company, or are involved with private equity or venture capital. If this is not something you have done, yet, start working on getting into one of these incubators of experience. Have you heard of the 10,000 hour rule?
Now assess what do different boards need. A highly sought after or unique skill, stand out leadership qualities, or a subject matter expert. Figure out which one of these fits your experience the best and find a way to communicate it as part of your brand. Your visibility is crucial. You can have all the right qualifications but if they aren’t visible, you will go nowhere. Do you know your brand and what specifically you have to offer a board/company? Deliver your pitch in 3-4 sentences with solid examples and stories to back it up. People will forget what you said but will always remember stories and how it made them feel.
In the age of the #metoo movement, we as women need to be intentional about making men feel comfortable around you when and if needed. This is a tricky tightrope to walk but must be considered. I liken it to being a tomboy on the playground, which I was way back when. If our actions and reputation put men as ease around us as business leaders, hopefully we can spend time in their social circles without fear of retribution. But...when the random bully pulls on some foolish strings, beat them up.
Questions you should be asking when you have the opportunity to interview for a board seat:
How many independent directors are on the board?
What is the company’s track record for building value?
Who are the company’s major shareholders? How long have they held their stakes in the company? What are the company’s corporate governance processes?
How are directors compensated?
What are the responsibilities of the committees of the board?
What is the expected time commitment?
So act now and be proactive about your goal to serve as a corporate director.
“Vision without action is a daydream.
Action without vision is a nightmare.” ~ Japanese Proverb