The statistics speak for themselves: “Research shows return on equity is 35% higher and total return to shareholders is 34% higher for companies whose top management teams include women,” said Donna Hamlin, Ph.D. Hamlin is the CEO of Boardwise.biz, a company providing governance advisory services to organizations. Hamlin educates others about the importance of women serving on boards, to achieve gender equity and help organizations perform better. On May 18th, she presented a webinar for the Forté Foundation community, Is a Board Seat Right for You?
Board membership is an honor, and it’s also an opportunity to influence the direction of an organization, apply your expertise in new ways or in a new industry, and expand your network to include people you may not otherwise meet.
Interested in pursuing a board of directors seat? Try these strategies, shared during the webinar:
Young professionals can seek out non-profit organizations that they are interested in, and sign up to join a committee and eventually apply for a board seat. “It gives you the architecture and the basic rules of what it means to be a director,” Hamlin said in a phone interview. “You’re learning something about the governance model.”
During the webinar, Hamlin mentioned that MBA students can volunteer their knowledge to early stage companies, by offering to serve on advisory boards. “They like taking in good, strong MBA candidates interested in helping early stage companies.” Hamlin earned a certification in corporate governance when she was twenty five and said that it positively impacted her early career. “The more you understand the governance role, the better you are at your job in your organization.”
Hone your problem-solving style.
One of the most important aspects to a board of directors application is demonstrated problem solving ability. It is advantageous to mine for self-knowledge about one’s problem solving style. Hamlin’s company, Boardwise, offers an assessment called Board Bona Fide that creates a candidate profile and provides information on a candidate’s “board style” and board readiness.
Said Hamlin, “We have an innate orientation about how we approach issues. If you evaluate how you problem solve early, you know where your natural proclivity is. You want to match your career and your job type to the natural way you orient to problems.” When it comes to problem solving, focusing on getting better at what you’re best at, will help you communicate the greatest value-add to boards.
Build your credentials.
Hamlin explained that there are five types of boards: non-profit boards, advisory boards, municipal boards, private boards, and public boards.
“Private boards help build your executive presence and build your voice. You can connect with people from other industries or from a variety of companies.” When it comes to landing a seat on a private board, said Hamlin, “The trick here is to find out if your resume will reflect strategy as a competency.”
For those interested in serving on the board of a public company, Hamlin said that serving on a board of trustees for an educational institution is seen as valuable experience. “Committees see the board of trustees as a stair step to public boards.”
Start searching for opportunities.
Hamlin said that 98% of board appointments are peer-based; thus, come up with a networking strategy. She said, “When men go to networking meetings, they tend to go with an agenda. Women go just to meet people that in the hopes that in the long term, it may be valuable.” Choose events where you sense that you will meet other decision makers and influencers, and be vocal about what your goals are.
You can search for board opportunities online. Hamlin recommended BoardProspects.com, which she described as “a social Linkedin for board directors.” She also recommended that MBAs ask their schools to keep them apprised of notices they receive from companies looking to expand their board.
Create a stand-out application package.
A resume for a board position does not look like a standard resume; in fact, it’s not a resume at all. A “board bio” is less focused on your qualifications and what you’ve already achieved, and is much more focused on how you problem solve and how you can help the board make the best decisions. “It is one page, and focused on what you bring to the board table and what committee you should be serving on. It should be very targeted. There should also be differentiation about what you bring in your problem solving skills,” said Hamlin. Hamlin recommended looking at board bios of the members at BoardProspects.com.
Hamlin recommends having another person look at your board bio to make sure that you have clearly conveyed your expertise and talents. “Women have a reticence to tell their own accomplishments. Men do it naturally, or rather, they’ve been trained to do it. It’s good to have someone else look at your resume and see if they might punch it up differently.” You want to make sure you convey your hard-earned expertise and your ability to create positive influence on an organization’s board.
Interested in learning more about how to prepare and successfully apply for board memberships? Watch the Is a Board Seat Right for You? webinar here, and learn more about developing your own action plan to apply for director positions. You can also read more about women on corporate boards at the Forté Foundation Business 360° Blog.