Women on Boards

Want to get on a corporate board? Make it your New Year's resolution!

One of the things we learned from our National Conversation on Board Diversity on 12/12/12 is that people want more tactical information on how to get on a board of directors. So, just how do you crack the code? Here are a few tips to get you going. Make it part of your New Years' resolution!
 
1. Make your intentions known:  Work your network, identifying those who are most likely to be in a position to help. Friends, business associates, industry contacts, and your boss may be in a position to help you open the right doors. It's all about whom you know and who knows you are interested in being on a corporate board. If you serve on non-profits, fellow board members could be included in your search.
 
2. Think about industries you know about and identify companies in those industries: Know your strengths and stick to what you know. Identify companies in the industry and closely related fields: your target list. Start with companies close to home, and expand the search from there. If you've had board experience, it may be easier to land a seat on a larger company board. But if you're a newbie, smaller, local companies will be easier.
 
3. Make a short list of directors: Once you have your target list, identify the directors on those company boards. Then work your network. Look to see if you know any of the directors on the boards. If you don't, the people in your network might. That's your short list.
 
4. Communicate your interest: Contact the people on your short list. Try to set up a meeting, preferably a lunch meeting. Express your interest. Ask for support. Be prepared.
 

Think Big

When we had the idea to commemorate 12/12/12 with a national conversation on board diversity there was only one thing to do, jump in with both feet. Our 1 1/2 year old campaign was doing well, but it was hardly the national phenomenon we know it will become. Our outreach strategy, forming 2020 Chapters in cities across the US, had not yet been realized. How to pull off a national event without budget or infrastructure? Think big.
 
We had organized the first 2020 Chapter in New Orleans early in the campaign. In 2012 we added two chapters, in Boston and New York. Each chapter, made up of volunteers committed to the 2020 mission, was charged with organizing an event. But three events could hardly be described as a national effort. In the end New Orleans held one, Boston held two and New York, the city that never sleeps, held four. Then there were seven.
 
We talked to everyone we knew: 2020 sponsors, affiliates, our board of leaders, colleges and universities and colleagues in like-minded organizations. We worked with Women on Line to help with our social media strategy and with YPO/WIN's event consultant, Kelly Kelly to help us with outreach. Breanna Bakke our Assistant Director became a whiz at EventBrite. Our friends at ION, Catalyst, the 30% Coalition and 85 Broads helped.
 
In July we had 15 events on the calendar. By the September there were 20. We signed on our 27th event last week, at the Leeds School of Business, University of Boulder. And on 12/12/12 we learned that Dassault Systemes, in Waltham, MA was holding an event for their women employees. Now there were 28.
 

Make Diversity a Corporate Priority

That feisty Viviane Reding. The relentless EU Justice Commissioner pushed forward her agenda to increase the number of women on European public company boards to 40% by 2020. The EU proposals, which met with some opposition by a few EU members, notably the UK, were softened to eliminate sanctions. The proposals were approved by the European Commission and now must go before the European Parliament and national governments before they can become law - maybe in 2014.

Here at home, when the number of women directors increases by even a single percentage point* we whoop with joy. We don't like quotas, but maybe some national clarity on diversity standards would grease the skids for quicker action. SEC commissioners, are you listening?

Of course, real change won't happen until companies make diversity a priority - and that is a slow process. According to the 2012 Board of Directors Survey by Heidrick & Struggles, Women Corporate Directors (WCD) and Harvard Business School, 46% of US directors and 57% of directors outside the US say that board diversity is not a corporate priority. Dr. Boris Groysberg, the Harvard professor who conducted the survey said that, "On many boards, creating an inclusive culture for the organization has not been a point of focus."

While quotas could catapult board diversity to the top of the corporate agenda, male and female directors alike are unenthusiastic about relying on them. However, notes Dr. Groysberg, " “although most female directors do not personally support quotas, they might view them as necessary to effect change."

Short of quotas, keeping the issue alive in the media and on the minds of stakeholders is a good way to get corporate decision makers to think seriously about the gender issue. A committed and organized effort is what's needed to effect change.

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