I have recently been invited to join a startup board. I was thrilled to see the founder being an advocate for women on boards by expressing a strong commitment to bring talented women to his team. A couple of days later, I received a newsletter by the 2020 Women on Board initiative reporting a noticeable increase in the number of women on U.S. company boards. Although the progress is still far from ideal, things seem to be moving forward faster than before. Amidst the all organized efforts taken by advocates and groups, let’s ask what else could be done? How can we support the cause and help more women to be on boards? I share my observation and insights below and look forward to read yours in comments.
Family (Work) Support
Serving as a board member requires additional time and energy commitment. Once elected to a board, directors have to constantly learn new things, expand their expertise, read and review balks of documents, attend meetings and calls. The responsibility and stress are huge too. All that usually comes on top of a woman’s full-time job and other personal duties. The notion of adding a burden to an already busy schedule may sabotage a woman’s resolve to pursue the board membership and even her decision to join one.
However, when a woman knows that she has a solid support system both emotional and physical she feels excited and empowered to take on new challenges. Every one of us, therefore, can support women on board initiatives by providing extra help to women in our lives. If you are a family member (a spouse, partner, parent, child), let your family women know that you will be there for them to help out. Find ways to let her spend more time on personal development and board serves.
If you are a professional partner (a manager, team member, subordinate), let your female colleagues know that you will be patient and understanding when the work schedule needs to be reshuffled and changes made to accommodate her board duties. Every little contribution helps and motivates.
Selecting a board member is an important and tedious task. You have to validate nominees professional and cultural fit and establish a trustworthy ground. That’s why many of the companies turn to the referral mechanism and start with the network they can trust. Being recommended by a peer is a powerful tool to get more women on board. Women tend to self-promote themselves less than men do. It is partially rooted in inborn instincts. While we can long argue that this should change, we can also embrace it and try to find a counter balance. Cross-promotion by fellow women directors and executives can help to increase odds of women being noticed, considered and elected to company boards.
It goes without saying that every female (and male) candidate should be a great fit for the company needs. Whenever there is a fit, women can go an extra mile and suggest their peer candidates to boards. We don’t need to wait until someone give us a call asking for a referrals. We have to take initiatives and reach out to companies to suggest women candidates to their boards.
Getting Ready Ahead
What’s the difference between a director and an excellent director? Right, deliberate preparation. Even people with great professional credentials not always know how to be a great member of the board. It requires developing certain behavioral skills, such as teamwork, tolerance, effective communication and mentorship. In addition, board members need to be adept at decision-making, strategy, talent management and control principles. Often board members enter boardrooms possessing some of those skills and develop the rest (through trainings and practice) as their tenure progresses.
What if we have taught those skills to women earlier in their professional path? It would give them a chance to immerse themselves into environment and be better prepared not to only join the board, but contribute the most. And since all the skills mentioned above are extremely valuable and transferrable for any professional activity, the preparation should start as early as possible.
Imagine teaching students a course on board directorship or introducing that course as a part of female talent development program at companies’ level. The right knowledge would give a competitive edge, confidence and belief that you can make it, no matter what. Joining and serving boards will be not only easier but more valuable.