Get Ready: Make The Right Move To The Boardroom With These Tips
“Being on a board is like a marriage with no divorce.”
Shannon Gordon, CEO of theBoardlist, told a group of close to 75 women board of directors hopefuls at a recent Chicago “Board Essentials for Women” event at PNC Bank Illinois, that you better be sure you know what you are signed up to do, because your commitment to a board needs to last.
Speaking candidly about what is required and what is expected of board candidates, Gordon who heads the company that launched in 2016, and has close to 5,000 people on its platform, says, “The demand for diverse board talent is exploding.”
More and more corporations are requiring diverse boards that include women directors, as the numbers are dismal for women and persons of color. With companies worth $1 billion and more, only 9 percent of those board seats are filled by women.
“There are a ton of amazing women available, so what is the disconnect?” Gordon asks.
Because 96 percent of board seats are filled by referral, and those networks lack women because 85 percent of CEOs and co-founders are men, the endorsement model works best for women who are experienced and who are also “emerging talent” looking for a first board opportunity.
If you are interested in being on a board, Gordon suggests a thorough self-assessment to decide what kind of board you are best suited for—whether public, private or nonprofit.
“Think about the stage of the company and be crystal clear on what is your unique value proposition,” Gordon says. To that end, be clear about your professional brand, your capacity and your commitment.
And don’t wait for a board invitation to land on you, she suggests. “The onus is on the candidate to share your desire to serve.”
While boards traditionally have looked for CEOs and CFOs, those who are CMOs, heads of HR, are in AI, or are digital directors or heads of cybersecurity are also desirable fits.
“Mostly you will be referred by someone you know in your company,” says Vicki Escarra, who serves as senior advisor to The Boston Consulting Group. The former chief marketing office of Delta Airlines, where she worked for 28 years, Escarra has served as member of the boards of directors for A.G. Edwards, HealthNet, Centene, and DocuSign, along with many nonprofit boards.
“What you bring in as an executive is not going to be in operations, you are part of the team,” says Escarra, who ran all of Delta’s operations for 10 years, including 203 airports, inflight services, call centers, and cargo operations.
“Think about what you bring to the party, what you’re really great at and how that translates,” says Trish Lukasik, CEO at Luxury Garage Sale, who serves on the boards of Sargento Foods and NatureBox.
“When you join a board it really is like getting married,” Escarra says. ‘You better like the CEO a lot because it is not a short-term relationship.”
On boards where you may be the only female, Escarra says, she was familiar with that dynamic.
Lukasik agrees and says as the only woman on three boards, she became desensitized to it. “In the end, it only matters if it is malicious. You want to contribute, be recognized and move on,” says Lukasik, who served as Chief Operating Officer of SpotHero. After working at Procter & Gamble, The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, most recently serving at the Chief Customer Officer for a $10 billion division of PepsiCo.
Alex Vetter, CEO and president of Cars.com, offers that sometimes not speaking up is detrimental.
Serving as director of RepairPal, Inc, and on the advisory boards of several technology ventures including Shotfarm LLC and Earshot, Inc., Vetter says while some directors “tally the talk time,” so as to know who wastes time and who does not contribute in the meetings, “You can be burned by not speaking your mind and trusting your knowledge.”
Lukasik agrees. “I should have been more vocal earlier,” she says of an early board position. “I knew more about something than anyone else in that room and didn’t flex that muscle.’
Time commitments vary from monthly board meetings to up to 20 meetings in a year if a company is being sold or finding a new CEO.
When considering your capacity for the board commitment, which can have a term limit of two to three years or more, Escarra says, “It’s a job, it’s important and you will be held accountable.”
It is also compensated, though compensation varies on public and private boards.
“Some of the most fun is when you see how great a team you have,” Escarra says. “It’s challenging but it’s also so much fun because you are building something.”
It is important to remember that you are serving on a board, but you are also receiving. You are learning, gaining skills and information and insights.
Lukasik adds, “Who else is in the room with you may also open the next door for you.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com