Here is a Method That is Helping Females and Minorities Gain Board Seats
Being on a company’s board of directors has many benefits for your career and overall professional growth. As a board member, you get to serve in a position of leadership by providing strategic direction and advice to ensure the company stays true to its mission. It also broadens your network and reach in unforeseen ways.
As Aisha Barry, a board member for the Ohio State School of Chemical Engineering, describes it: “Being on a board has required me to listen more intently to the opinions of others (in these cases, peers with equal or more experience but in a different area), integrate this thinking quickly and help define winning solutions for an operation that I don’t have the opportunity to impact daily or via my management skills.”
The benefits of being a board member can be immeasurable. However, for many boards, diversity remains an issue. According to the nonprofit organization Catalyst, only 16.6% of Fortune 500 board seats are held by women, trailing behind South Africa and several western European countries. Minorities don’t fare much better, with 13.3% representation on Fortune 500 Boards. Of that percentage, minority women make up a dismal 3.2%. Though the numbers have steadily increased over the years, they’re still abysmally low.
Fortunately, proof is emerging that having diversity on corporate boards actually benefits companies. An article from Slate details how boards with women on them are more aggressive and result in better performance. But how does one get on a corporate board, especially as a woman or underrepresented minority? To get a seat at the table, you have to develop a strategy that will take you to the next level. Here are three recommendations I have for becoming a potential candidate for the board seat.
1. Find an influential sponsor
Mentors are great. They provide guidance on a number of professional situations that you encounter. However, when it comes to progressing within a company to a position of decision-making, particularly as a woman or minority, sponsors are vital. They act as your advocate and introduce you to the right people, making sure you and your work are noticed.
Because sponsors tend to be in positions of influence, acquiring one is easier said than done. It involves strategic networking with decision makers and high-level conversations with senior-level professionals (note: use my Starter Kit to guide you). Your work and reputation must also be sponsor-worthy. Sponsors put their names on the line whenever advocating for you, so it’s important to add value by excelling in what you do and helping the sponsor with his or her success. Once you’ve established a solid relationship with the sponsor, be honest about your interest in becoming a board member. It won’t happen overnight, but a sponsor will help facilitate the steps necessary to getting that seat on the board.
2. Discover your niche and leverage it
When it comes to getting on a corporate board, it’s important to do your homework. Who are the current members of the board and what do they bring to the table? Discover what makes each person unique. Then, looking at your own skill set, how do you think you can be helpful to the board members? Identify those strengths that set you apart and focus on ways to leverage them within your career.
For example, you may notice there is no one on the board who excels in social media marketing, an area that you are familiar with and think would be useful to the board. Use the opportunity to learn everything you can related to social media marketing and showcase your expertise in a way that gets noticed by the right people.
3. Don’t be afraid to highlight your leadership skills
When looking at positions of leadership in today’s workplace, women and minorities continue to lag behind white males. A recent study shows that when it comes to leadership roles, the assumption that women prefer less demanding positions because of their lifestyle is false. Rather, women—particularly women of color—do not advance as quickly as their peers due to inherent biases in the workplace.
To counter the incorrect assumptions about women and minorities when it comes to leadership, you need to show your ability to lead. It may require spearheading a large-scale project at work or creating opportunities through other avenues in your career. The goal is to not be afraid to step up to the plate and show what you are capable of. This will help you when it comes to leading as a board member. Ronald Rapatalo, who’s a board member of the Highbridge Community Life Center, elaborates: “Being on a board, I get to practice my leadership in a different way than how I lead at work. For example, I’ve gotten to work on fundraising, which is not part of my daily work.”
Getting on a board may seem like a daunting task but it can be done. As Carolyn Thomas, board member of Girls Inc. of NW Oregon—says, “Don’t let fear be a roadblock. If you have the time and desire to serve on a board then make it happen by putting that desire out to your network. You will be amazed by what opportunities and connections exist to help you find the right board to serve on.”
With the right combination of influential sponsors, in-demand professional skills and visible leadership qualities, you can work your way to becoming a strong contender for a seat on the board and to obtaining a broader network which will help you thrive in your career.
I have worked with many female and minority professionals through my career coaching by Career Outcomes Matter to empower these individuals to progress to positions of leadership and influence. By subscribing to my site, you can gain insight into how these transitions have occurred and how you can be next.