5 Steps For Women in Corporate Leadership To Be On A Board By 30
In December 2011, Hearsay Social Founder & CEO Clara Shih at age 29 was elected to the Starbucks board of directors. Boards of public, private, and non-profit organizations are not just for older individuals. The survival of these organizations depends on having input from younger generations, which comprises both their customers and their employees.
Do you want to be on a board? Here are five steps you can take to increase your chances of receiving a board invitation by age 30:
Know what you like
Your interests will determine what board(s) you want to serve on. Do you believe in corporate social responsibility? Are you a technology wonk? Do you want to get involved with your professional association? You need to know your interests to be able to then identify organizations that you want to target.
Know what you can bring to the table
You need to balance your interests with your expertise and skills. Know your value and what you bring to the table. Do you know the customer? Are you a wiz with technology and social media? Can you implement a new business model or connect the dots between mega-trends to gain insights and help an organization strategize? What do other people tell you that you are great at doing?
What you know is more important than the number of years of experience. Boards are looking for knowledge and skills that compliment what they already have or that they lack. You do not need to know everything.
As the saying goes, “You don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun the other person.” You just need to be better than other people at a particular thing. You just need to know some skill or area well, and you have to be confident about it and tell people. Compared to most other people, you are the expert. This is how to add considerable value to a governance group.
Develop relationships to connect and gather information
Now that you have identified your interests and expertise, you can approach people and start having conversations. This is the opportunity to share with individuals at your target organizations what you have to offer.
Developing relationships is an opportunity to develop a connection and learn about the person and their organization. Ask your contact questions about organizational priorities and current challenges to gather information that will help you to identify areas with which you can help. Ask about how the organization is governed, or search on the Internet to see if the organization’s website publicizes board members. If your expertise is in digital marketing, and the board does not include a marketing professional, this is your opportunity to fill the gap.
It is not enough to tell your contact what you are good at. You have to show them. As you learn more about the organization, apply your expertise and share with them your ideas that respond to the priorities and challenges of the organization.
If the company is looking to scale their business, tell them what you think to be a hidden market opportunity. If the organization is looking to increase the impact of a campaign, share with them how they can leverage an international event happening simultaneously. If the leadership of a male-dominated sports organization is looking to integrate gender diversity, tell them your thoughts on how they can influence the desire for, rather than force, an increase in women’s leadership. If you represent their target market and audience, recommend specific changes that will more efficiently meet the needs of this group. You want them to come away from the conversation thinking, “Wow…That is really interesting. I never thought of that.”
This is where age is just a number. If you can give your contact at the organization a “wow” moment, it does not matter how old you are. What matters is the maturity of thought.
Ask if you can contribute
Demonstrating your value is the key to receiving a board invitation. Now is your opportunity. If the company does not ask you to be on a board, then you should. Ask, “How can I help or add value to the organization in a formal capacity?” This will pave the way for an opportunity now or down the road.
If you want to get on a board, regardless of your age, you must know yourself and the companies or organizations that you are targeting and then develop a relationship that gives you the opportunity to showcase your talent, share fresh ideas, and leave an impression.
This column originally appeared in Forbes.
About the Author
A lawyer and strategist, Avery Clark helps individuals and organizations position and advocate for themselves to advance their priorities. She advises clients globally on career strategy and business owners, corporate leaders, and startup founders on thought leadership and organizational strategy, having worked in the public and private sectors, most recently at the University of Maryland Center for Health & Homeland Security working on crisis management. The National Association for Women Lawyers recognized her for her work in policy and the advancement of women.