How Women can Best Prepare to Sit on a Corporate Board

Getting a seat on a corporate board is a prestigious accomplishment, and, as such, requires a lot of careful planning and preparation.  This is especially true for women, who only hold approximately 20.2 percent of corporate board seats among Fortune 500 companies.  One of the key functions of an effective Board of Directors is representing company stakeholders, including customers, employees, and shareholders, therefore a diverse, inclusive Board that combines a variety of skills and viewpoints is crucial.  With that in mind, we’ve compiled some tips and advice on how women can prepare to sit on a corporate board.

One: Develop your Personal Brand

All Board candidates must have a strong personal brand and value proposition that differentiates them from the pack, and you must be able to articulate this both in person and through your board-specific résumé.  Identify your strengths and correlate them with the experience you have gained during your career, and use that information to demonstrate how your unique expertise will add value to a corporate board.

Two: Start Early

Corporate directors tend to be older and more experienced; people who have held high-level positions like CEO or CFO for a number of years and are looking for ways to continue to stay involved and contribute once their tenures have ended.  To land a spot on a board, though, you must start planning early and focus your career trajectory on positions that will give you the skills and experiences attractive to boards.  This is especially true for women, who traditionally are underrepresented in C-suite level roles.  If you think you will want to sit on a board one day, you will need to aggressively pursue opportunities that can give you the necessary skills (profit and loss [P&L] responsibility is one that is important to many boards, for example) and show that you actively seek out progressive levels of responsibility.

Three: Network, Network, Network

As we have discussed in many previous articles, networking is extremely important at all stages of your career – and this is especially true for people looking to land a seat on a corporate board.  Build your network strategically, and start adding current board members to your circle as soon as possible.  These connections will be able to offer you advice on what you can do to appear most attractive to a board, introduce you to other board members, and generally give you a leg up when you are ready to start sending out résumés.  Again, it is important to start early: even if the board connections you make when you are younger are not still board members when you are ready to sit on one yourself, they can offer advice that will help you shape your career, and will likely still be able to advocate for you.

Four: Develop a Specialty

Boards look for people who can add a particular skill set or expertise that will contribute to the growth and success of the company, so cultivate solid experience in one or two areas that tend to be of value.  P&L responsibility is one of the top experiences boards look for in a member, as we mentioned earlier, but other valuable assets include: general counsel experience, operations expertise, leadership, and financial knowledge.  You can’t specialize in everything, though!  Examine your career path and your strengths and weaknesses, and then focus on becoming an expert in one or two areas that really interest you.

Five: Join a Nonprofit Board

Nonprofit boards tend to be viewed as a stepping stone to public company boards, as they provide some training and experience sitting on a board.  Nonprofit boards do have a different function than corporate boards, though, so don’t expect the experiences to be identical!  Board members at a nonprofit are typically expected to contribute to fundraising efforts, and you may have to help plan or run events.  Still, serving on a nonprofit board is a great way to develop your strategic guidance skills and demonstrate that you are dedicated to organizational improvement and success – all good things when you are looking to get on a corporate board!  Make sure you look at non-profits that relate to your interests, though, so your time and effort is for a cause that is important to you.

We hope these tips have been helpful for all of you trying to get on a corporate board, whether you are already submitting board résumés or just starting to think about wanting to get on a board one day!  If you have any questions, or need assistance putting together your résumé and crafting your online presence, please contact us today!  

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