Women on Boards

Ask Seven Questions Before Joining a Board

As part of Forté’s efforts to change the balance of power in the workplace, we encourage women to take on leadership roles, including seats on corporate and nonprofit boards. Many of the professional members in Forté’s community have expressed interest in serving on boards but have questions about how to get started, whether they have the right qualifications, the level of commitment required, and more.

This year, as part of our Premium Membership, Forté launched a new event series designed to answer these questions: Women on Boards. If you aspire to have a seat at the board of directors table, this series will help you achieve that goal.

Joining a board is an exciting opportunity, but as the comic above suggests, you may also encounter challenges along the way. When you find the right board, confidently take your seat — and be ready to advocate for yourself in your new role.

The Next Step in Your Career

The first event in Forté’s Women on Boards series, Her Seat at the Table, featured Marjorie Magner, Director, Ally Financial, and one of the most powerful women in business. Marjorie — who goes by Marge — has served on many boards in her career, including Accenture and TEGNA. She’s currently a member of the Brooklyn College Foundation and sits on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the Krannert School of Management.

During the Forté event, Marge shared a story about how she secured her first board seat. She was riding in a car with Donna Shalala after a friend’s son’s bar mitzvah when Donna turned to her and asked, “What boards are you on?”

At the time, Marge wasn’t on any boards, and at that moment, a light went on in her head. She says, “It was clearly the next logical step for me.” Donna was on the Gannett board, and she suggested that Marge interview for a board seat there. Gannett became her first board, and she is grateful to Donna for asking the question that started her on that path.

Throughout her career, Marge has encouraged other women to join boards as part of their leadership journey. If this is something that interests you, she recommends letting your network know. She says, “Get familiar with the process, and spend time with people who are on boards.”

Explore Your Board Service Options

Before joining a board, consider what kind of board you want to join and what you bring to the table. You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with the board’s requirements.

 Joining a Nonprofit Board

If you’re passionate about a particular cause, consider joining the board of directors of a nonprofit organization doing that kind of work. As a board member, you’ll be in a position to help that organization become more disciplined, sustainable, and effective — and you’ll do better work if the mission resonates with you.

The second event in Forte’s Women on Board series, Joining a Nonprofit Board, featured Cynthia Remec, Executive Director and founder of BoardAssist, an organization that connects nonprofit boards with people interested in giving back through board service.

 She says, “Unlike for-profit board service, where you’re paid to serve on a board, in nonprofit board service, you give what’s called ‘time, talent, and treasure.’” That means that everyone on the board participates in the organization’s annual fundraising effort. As a nonprofit board member, you’ll typically be expected to make a personal donation to the organization in addition to raising funds from others in your network.

While BoardAssist primarily works with people located in New York City, the organization’s free ebook, Giving Back, answers many common questions about nonprofit board service.

Joining a Corporate Board

The board of directors at a public or private company will have different requirements than a nonprofit board. For example, to be on a corporate board, you’ll have to be in or near the C-suite and demonstrate a high level of achievement and management success.

The Women on Boards series continued with Practical Insights on the Journey to the Board Room. At this event, Heather Wolf, Managing Director of Trewstar, offered a closer look at what’s involved in joining a corporate board. Trewstar is a search firm that specializes in the placement of outstanding female and diverse candidates on corporate boards.

Heather has worked in corporate governance for nearly 20 years and she shared guidance on identifying board service opportunities, preparing for interviews, and managing your board responsibilities. If you’re a Forté Premium Member, watch the replay.

Ready to Claim Your First Board Seat? Ask Yourself These 7 Questions

  1. Who do I know who is serving on a board? Reach out to your network and ask them about their board experiences.
  2. What kind of board do I want to join? Based on your interests and where you are in your career, you may be a better fit for a corporate board or a nonprofit board.
  3. Do I have any potential conflicts? Some board roles could be a conflict of interest with your full-time work, especially if you work in finance.
  4. What do I bring to the table?  Think about which of your skills the board is likely to find most valuable. Does your unique skill set fill a specific need for a specific board? 
  5. How could I strengthen my board resume? If you recognize that you’re missing certain qualifications, look for ways to fill those holes.
  6. What do I hope to learn from this experience? Joining a board can be an opportunity to explore a new industry or develop new skills.
  7. Do I have the time to commit to this role? From meeting attendance to committee responsibilities, make sure you understand what’s expected of you before joining a board.

As you consider taking on this new commitment, think about how you will balance your other priorities, your available time, and the organization’s needs. If you find a company or nonprofit organization that feels like a great fit, join the board — and encourage other women to do the same.


 To participate in upcoming Women on Boards events,  join Forté at the Premium Membership Level. You’ll boost your own career while supporting our efforts to advance women in business.


Take Charge of Your Future 

For more leadership guidance, consider participating in the Rise Leadership Program. This three-month virtual program is dedicated to helping mid-career women move their careers forward by focusing on their own leadership strengths. Rise is built on the premise that leadership starts from within. Learn from leadership experts and executive coaches as you develop an authentic leadership style that suits your skills and personality. Interested in being part of our next cohort? Apply now! 

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