“No one is going to give it to you. You have to go get it.” I apply that belief to all areas of my life, and right now, I am urging you to make it your motto as you pursue your goal of gaining influence in the boardroom.
At the Women in the Boardroom Signature events, our panelists describe the steps to take to reach the ultimate goal: a seat on a corporate board. I am going to recap some of their best advice, but first I want to emphasize the importance of taking action and also being realistic in your search.
Many people sit in our audiences dreaming about gaining a seat on the board of a Fortune 500. Well, guess what? Those boards are looking for sitting CEOs of other Fortune 500 companies, someone who is sitting in the C-suite of a F500 or someone who is already serving on those boards. And those people are mainly white men.
We should be looking at smaller boards to create opportunities for ourselves, and this is a topic that panelists from Carol Mills to Barbara Klein to Barbara Knuckles can detail with ease.
Talk to your banker and your accountant and your attorney. Talk to the CEO of your company. Let them know you are looking for a board seat, and ask them to start thinking of opportunities for you.
Talk to the venture capitalists you know, because they routinely put together boards to run the companies they finance. “The dirty little secret of Silicon Valley is that the No. 1 reason for failure is a bad board,” says panelist Carol Sands, a VC in San Francisco. The CEOs of those fledgling companies need your wise counsel.
Volunteer to serve on commissions at local, county and state governments. Many such commissions exist, and some states even require participation by women. “If you serve on a planning commission, you’re aware of every new development, every new business that comes to town,” says panelist Jean Jacobson. “There’s no better way to get your name out and to be known than in a public meeting.”
Talk to your business owner friends. If they don’t have an advisory board, encourage them to start one, and volunteer to sit on it. A must-read book on how to start an advisory board is “Built to Scale” – it provides step-by-step instructions on how to create and run a successful advisory board. As every panelist will tell you, the first for-profit board seat is the most difficult to get. After that, the opportunities begin to mushroom.
The great news is that there are smaller boards that are looking for board-ready women just like you! Over the past year, we have been notified of 15 paid board openings. If you want to be one of the board-ready women that we are helping connect with these board openings, check out our VIP program.
Panelist Amal Johnson puts it this way, when asked for the single most important action women can take to gain that first board seat: “Just being in the mix. Just getting out. Just getting in the game.”
If you are passionate about gaining a board seat, you have to make it happen. Start taking these steps today.