The Five Most Important Steps To Get on A Corporate Board

More and more corporate boards are seeking to diversify their ranks. Yet, according to Catalyst, only 16.6% of board seats in the US in 2012 were held by women.  The data published by Catalyst shows companies with three or more women board directors in four of five years outperformed companies with zero women board directors―by 84% return on sales, 60% return on invested capital, and 46% return on equity.

And corporate boards are one of the best part-time jobs around. Median pay in 2010 was $212,500, up a projected +10% in 2011 according to an article in USA Today. That is a pretty good hourly salary for an average of 4.3 hours of work per week according to a survey by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD).  In addition to a great salary, 96% of board members according to a survey by Heidrick & Struggles & Women Corporate Directors (WCD) are satisfied with their job. Great salary. Short hours. Great job satisfaction.  Does this sound like a job you would like to have?

Here’s the challenge.  Many women don’t understand the steps to take early in their careers to best position and prepare themselves to get on boards and miss the boat. Another challenge according to the Heidrick & Struggles 2011 survey done with WCD, it takes women 6 months longer than men (an average of 2.3 yrs vs. 1.7 yrs) to get on a Board.  According to the research, women feel that the primary reasons why there are fewer women on boards is because of the closed networks that decide who gets on what boards. Men on the other hand believe that fewer women on boards is attributable to the fact that there are fewer women in executive roles to choose from.

Regardless of the data, here are five practical steps women can take to increase their chances of getting on a public company board.

1) Excel at What You Do – Get great experience where you are in your corporate career. Ensure that you have business and financial decision making experience. Getting P&L responsibility is very important. Boards also look for people who have strong emotional intelligence and can work well with others according to an article in CNN Money. Mary Madden, Executive Director of WCD and NACD in Atlanta, advises that if you happen to be in a Senior Executive position in a corporation, make sure you understand what restrictions may exist related to you being on a corporate board. On the positive side, it is a huge advantage to have your company’s  CEO support your candidacy within his or her networks (see point #4 below).

2) Develop A Clear Articulation of your Brand/Value Proposition - Start with getting clarity on why you would like to be on a corporate board and what kind of corporate board you want to be on. What is your unique personal brand and value proposition for a prospective board? Why should a board hire you? What unique skill sets and strengths, experiences do you bring? Create a Board resume that highlights your experiences, strengths and skill sets.

3) Get some Non-Profit Board experience – According to Carol Tomei, CFO of the Home Depot, who sits on the Boards of UPS  and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, non-profit boards are an excellent way to start getting Board experience.  Make sure that these boards are not rubber-stamp boards but have tough issues to address, where you will learn board governance. If you’re in a large organization, connect with the community relations person and get their advice on a good non-profit board to be on. Make sure you are passionate about the cause as it requires discretionary time for which you are not getting paid. According to Donna James, CEO of Lardon Associates, being on the board of a powerful non-profit is what gave her exposure to the people and relationships that would eventually result in getting her on the board of the Limited Brands. She also sits on the Boards of Time Warner Cable and Coca Cola Enterprises.

Another option to get experience is to start with smaller company or start-up boards. They often do not pay or pay a whole lot less but you get a feel for the issues and learn to have a voice at the table, learning the difference between being a leader running a company and being on the board of one.

Once on a board, make sure you contribute. According to Martha Brooks who is on the boards of Harley Davidson and Bombardier, your contributions will get noticed and will allow you to be known for other possible Board opportunities.

4) Build a Powerful Network of Relationships.   Relationships count. Who to build relationships with? People who are on boards themselves. Connect with recruiters who do Board searches.  Make sure you have your Board pitch and resume ready as you connect with people. You can join organizations such as the NACD to connect with others who are already on boards.

5) Get educated/trained on Governance issues. Some of the major universities have Directors’ colleges. The NACD has chapters and programs across the US some of which are open to non-Directors. The WCD also has programs available.

Feel free to connect with me if you would like to develop your own board candidacy.

Additional Information

How Women Improve Board Performance – The Glass Hammer

This article was written by Henna Inam, CEO Coach. She works with women leaders to help them be successful, deeply engaged, fulfilled, and out of that create organizations that drive breakthroughs in innovation, engagement, growth and meaning in the world. Her corporate clients include Nestle, J&J, Home Depot and others who deeply care about growing their female leadership talent. To accelerate your own growth connect with her here. Sign up for her blog here.

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