It’s never too early for Gen-Y women to work on a long-term strategic career plan, particularly if they are interning without pay (against my advice!) or are working a low-paid non-career job to pay the rent.
It’s never been easier to build a network and there have never been more organizations available to help young women begin to create a reputation for excellence that can lead to Board membership.
There are organizations like Women in the Boardroom whose event at City Club in downtown Los Angeles recently opened my eyes to the work being done to make the corporate person remove three male rib bones and create a trio of women on Board.
Don’t Let “The Economy” Slow You Down
Listen. I know all about “the economy.”
I graduated from college in 1975. That was the year New York City declared bankruptcy and the year I moved there with my graduate student husband and $200 in my pocket. I had a Lit degree and the ability to type 60 words per minute.
Two years later, I left Manhattan for law school, leaving behind a paralegal job, volunteer work at Legal Aid in East Harlem and a two-year tenure at a 24-Hour Crisis Line where I learned to problem solve for people in their most dire emergencies.
Unless you have a trust fund, we all start from scratch and none of us can predict the routine financial catastrophes that repeatedly visit our economic shores.
In this third post in my series of women on Boards, I give you another superstar Board member, Kimberly Alexy, who did not let her age, her gender or any other circumstance keep her from realizing her dreams.
Today, Kimberly, serves on the Board of Directors for CalAmp, a wireless data com and satellite products provider. She has previously served on the Boards of Dot Hills Systems; Southwest Water; SMART Modular; and, Maxtor, all but one in the technology sector.
Though in her late 30s or early 40s today, she started serving on Boards in her mid-thirties, an unheard of age to join the rocking chair crowd that populates the Boards of most Fortune 500 companies.
Alexy’s advice is similar to that which we see here at ForbesWoman every day – network systematically, be of service to your network, and enter the “old boys’ club.”
It’s one thing to talk about those principles and quite another to put them to strategic use as Alexy has done. Let’s listen in as she describes the way in which she’s put those principles to use.
Alexy advises women to systematically cultivate your network.
She’s not kidding about the systematic part. Like any good financial professional, she uses an Excel spreadsheet for complicated and simple tasks. Keeping track of nurturing her network is one of the simpler ones.
Once a quarter, Alexy sets aside a full day to make phone calls to her networking list which is divided up among C-suite contacts, service providers, Board contacts, attorneys, accountants and the like.
The calls are casual and friendly.
I’ll be in Philadelphia next month and would love to get together for a cup of coffee (or lunch or dinner). Do you have time in your schedule for me?
She makes enough appointments to make it worth her while to hop on a plane to Philadelphia to cultivate them.
Enter the “Old Boys” Club
There’s no getting around it. Not only are corporate boards white and male, they’re also long in the tooth.
Alexy is just as interested in getting young people on board as she is in seeing women step up and take their places at the corporate governance table.
“Boards are reticent to consider an unknown,” she said. “It’s a five to ten year commitment and more difficult to rid a company of a non-productive board member than to fire an employee.”
It helped, of course, that Alexy was on Wall Street for ten years with a ready-made network when she first considered Board membership. But don’t think an existing “old boys’” network is an absolute necessity once you begin to seek out opportunities for corporate governance.
Non-Traditional Board Candidates
Alexy appears traditional to my untrained eye, but she admits to never having served in a C-suite role at a time when CFOs, COOs, CFOs and the like are the pick of the litter for open Board positions.
All you have to do is look at the number of those positions filled by women (few) and by “youngsters” in their 30s (fewer still) to peg Alexy as an outsider despite her apparent insider credentials.
Alexy is a Chartered Financial Analyst who served as Senior VP and Managing Director of Equity Research for Prudential Securities, VP of Equity Research at Lehman Brothers and Assistant Vice President of Corporate Finance at Wachovia Bank.
Yes, Alexy is yet another woman analog to Ginger Rogers – doing everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels. (Gen-Ys will have to supply the modern dancing duo in the comment section below).
But Alexy wasn’t born with those degrees in hand. Nor did she make her way onto Wall Street as a young woman without a great deal of confidence and drive.
She also had the perspicacity to attend the Directors College at Stanford, which describes its work as follows:
DIRECTORS’ COLLEGE is the nation’s premier executive education program for directors and senior executives of publicly traded firms. The program addresses a broad range of problems that confront modern boards, including the board’s role in setting business strategy, CEO succession, techniques for controlling legal liability, challenges posed by activist investors, boardroom dynamics, and contemporary challenges including the state of the macroeconomy and emerging cyber security threats.
“I think that for non-traditional Board candidates” Alexy told me in a post-panel interview, “networking and expressing interest to those who may be in a position to help you and who know your skill sets and strengths is a great next step.”
One baby step at a time with a plan in hand that you’re willing to change when circumstances do.
As a consultant on the new generation entering the work force once told me, Gen-Y is “flat, fast and flexible.” Flat because it doesn’t like or respect hierarchy. Fast because it doesn’t stay put. And flexible because it’s prepared to move with the times.
I liked it then and remember it now when I see young women set their own terms in a world that might otherwise reject them.
Go get ‘em, ladies. The world is your oyster.
The opinions and experiences expressed by the author or subjects do not necessarily reflect those of Women in the Boardroom.