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#SheilaSays series on the basics of board service

Common concerns we hear at WIB, answered by Sheila Ronning

What are the different types of boards?

The media seems to only write about the Fortune 500 boards, but very few men or women are qualified for these. The good news is that there are thousands of other boards. These include smaller public boards, a large variety of private boards, and advisory boards, although not all in each category are the same. For example, private boards could include family-owned businesses, equity-backed, partnerships and more. And advisory boards are not just for start-ups – there are a lot of larger boards (including F500 companies) that have advisory boards.

Will serving on a non-profit board help me land a corporate board seat?

Serving on a non-profit board might help you secure a seat on a corporate board. But if you’re going to serve on a non-profit board and reference it for this reason, make sure it’s a large non-profit board. You should also make sure it’s well-run so that you’re learning the corporate governance, and also ensure that you are passionate about the mission, that you’ll take on a leadership role, and that there are men serving at that table as well.

Am I qualified and/or have the right skill-sets for serving on a corporate board?

Board requirements vary widely – some of the skill-sets and experiences that we have been contacted for at Women in the Boardroom include financial, sales, operations, human resources, marketing, international retail, cyber security and strategy experts. Although it’s good to have a specific skill-set when joining a board, as a board member you also need to be an excellent generalist.

“What are corporate boards looking for?”

In the last three years, the world of serving on corporate boards has changed rapidly. As well as looking for people with different skill-sets, a smart board will also be diverse in gender, race, and age. Corporate boards are seeking individuals who are enthusiastic, skilled leaders, and willing to be accountable for overseeing the company’s performance from a strategic point of view. They’re looking for people who are committed to fulfilling their role to a high standard.

“What are the jobs and responsibilities of a director?”

First and foremost, your responsibilities are to the stakeholders but it is also to hire, evaluate and fire the CEO, approve and oversee strategy, bring in other directors, monitor and approve the different committees and processes to make sure that they comply with all the regulations and best practices, and oversee financial performance. Ultimately, it’s your job to ensure the company is being run legally, effectively and efficiently but you are not management.  Eyes in and fingers out.

“How can I be an effective board member?”

Know the company and the competitors and stay informed.  Be prepared for board meetings, get along with other board members, speak up in meetings, but do this selectively – bring something fresh and relevant to the discussion. It’s OK to be a dissenting voice, but don’t be argumentative.

“What are the risks of serving?”

There are three types of risks sitting on a corporate board. Criminal risk is technically a risk, but it’s extremely rare that a board director in this country has ever been criminally prosecuted. There’s also financial risk – it’s very common that board directors get sued as a whole, but unlikely individuals will get sued. However, reputational risk is more likely, so you do need to be very careful about the companies that you’re interested in working with. It can’t be overstated- if you have a question about why you’re doing something, bring it up so that it’s in the minutes. Perform your duties diligently, and be able to show that you followed a responsible process, and you should be fine.

What’s the time commitment of serving?

The time you’re required to give can vary greatly. For example, the average time commitment for public boards is definitely increasing – it can be anywhere between 250 to 300 hours per year. And if a company goes into crisis mode, it can be double or triple that. Be sure to do your due diligence ahead of time.  For private boards the time commitment varies greatly, sometimes more than public boards and sometimes less. It will depend on why they want you so be sure to know all details before serving.

What’s the compensation for serving?

Compensation for board service varies between public and private boards. In the public sector, micro and small cap companies average $124,160 and $162,466, respectively; medium cap companies average $182,139, and large cap companies average $222,227. Compensation is a combination of cash and stock. Small to medium-sized private companies range from $15,000 to $45,000, although larger companies may mirror public board compensation plans. At Women in the Boardroom, we’re really focused on the boards that have some sort of compensation. I always say that I’ve no desire to help women volunteer one more minute of their time. It might not be a lot, but I think that when they’re compensating you, it shows that they really do value your opinion and your contribution.

Why serve on a board?

Serving on a board will bring you both personal and business benefits. For one, it’s an intellectual challenge. You are learning how a new company does business while sitting at the table with extremely smart people, learning how they do business and communicate. This knowledge not only helps you but will also benefit the company you work for. Often times women feel they are only giving back while serving on a non-profit board, but this is simply not true. Helping a company get to the next level and/or accomplish their goals is also giving back. No matter the reason for serving, nearly all board members agree they get more out of every meeting than they give. And being on a board certainly enhances your resume.

What can I do to get my seat at the table?

Begin with a strategic plan and know what you are qualified for and what you are interested in. Assess your skill-set and fill in any needed gaps. Before you start the process, you should develop a reputation for excellence and showing leadership, work on building your profile and personal brand, and of course always bring your A-game to everything you do. People are watching. If you have not been on a board, educate yourself on the responsibilities. Alternatives to being on non-profit boards and/or industry association boards are government commissions or committees. You can also seek out acquaintances who own their own business and ask to serve on their advisory boards. When you are ready, use your network. Think of the influencers and connectors in your network and let them know you are interested in getting on a corporate board. Be sure to have your elevator pitch down, as that will let them know what you are looking for and what you bring to the table. It is very important to know which people in your network to reach out to, but it is just as important to know what to say to them and how to maintain those relationships. Timing is everything.

I am Sheila Ronning, founder and CEO of Women in the Boardroom. I am a leadership & networking expert and board strategist and I get women into corporate boardrooms. Learn how at www.womenintheboardroom.com.

About Women in the Boardroom™

Since 2002, we have been the experts that help you get your seat at the table. We provide a customized step-by-step approach to getting on your 1st, 2nd or 3rd corporate board that includes exclusive programs such as our Matchmaking Program™, Annual Board Assembly and proven networking process. And with nearly 50% of our VIP Members serving on corporate boards, our proven process works!

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