Gender parity on boards has been a slow process even though there are plenty of women who match the skills and backgrounds boards seek to round out their membership. So why aren’t more women filling these seats?
There are several reasons, but I am going to focus on what women themselves can do to change this.
First, the “how to” of getting on a board remains a mystery to some women and they hear over and over again that networking is the best way to get on a corporate board, so they will either block themselves by not wanting to do “the ask” or they block themselves by thinking they don’t check 100% of the qualifications to serve. Other reasons include not communicating their value add, not branding themselves as a board member, and of course, gender bias. However, many male corporate board members have told me that women are not letting them know they want to serve. This tells me that we, as women, need to remember people cannot read our minds.
Having a board seat is a great way for women to engage in high-level decision making outside of their normal workplace and push themselves intellectually to think beyond the box! Board service opportunities introduce directors to other smart and talented high-achievers and provides them with the chance to work through complex issues alongside one another. This process will undoubtedly require sharp thinking and artful persuasion. Additionally, directors are exposed to industries, products, and services that they may not have worked in before or be closely familiar with, helping to expand their professional portfolio.
Board work and experience also enhances a person’s reputation and that’s great for boosting your personal brand. To be an effective board member, you’ll also need to illustrate deft communication skills to influence your peers, and this can be an opportunity for a member to build their reputation as an influencer. Serving with distinction will also afford members access to and recognition from an expanding circle of formidable people.
It’s also important to consider how landing a corporate board seat is extremely competitive, not only because board seats can be scarce, but because competition is fierce. However, with the right initiative, preparation and guidance, women will find themselves being invited to interview, and achieving a corporate board seat is a great indicator to your peers that you’re contributing your expertise at the highest level. And that is the ultimate lift for your confidence!
Moreover, after several decades of holding management, executive, and c-suite level positions, board service can be a fulfilling “second career” for some. Many women are looking to change the pace of their lifestyle after years of the demanding intensity of an executive job, and the reasons can range from craving more quality time with their families, retirement, age, or other reasons. Holding a board seat will allow you to continue to apply your skills in a stimulating and creative fashion long after you’ve stepped away from a traditional work schedule.
Finally, as a board director, you’ll be providing guidance and advice to help a company reach its greatest potential, and quality board directors learn about and believe in their company, its products and its services. They also carefully guard the interests of stakeholders, helping to amplify that company’s performance and this can be a satisfying way to give back!
Board service can be an amazing way for women to enrich their professional skills and knowledge, grow their network, or change the pace at which they work.
As a director, you’ll learn the ins and outs of how a company conducts business, work alongside extremely talented individuals from different backgrounds, and garner new business and communication skills that will surely translate well to your current professional position or role.
As women begin to take on board seats, we see an improved function among boards. And although each director might describe their motivation for board service in a different way, nearly all agree that they believe they get more out of every meeting than they give.
Sheila Ronning, founder and CEO of Women In The Boardroom – an organization founded with the goal of bridging the gender gap in the boardroom – is a recognized expert on boardroom diversity and leadership. Follow her on Twitter (Twitter @RonningSheila) or reach out to her at Ronning@womenintheboardroom.com
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