Want to Serve on a Corporate Board? Here’s How!

By | April 22, 2013

If you have thought about serving on a corporate board and enjoying all the perks and benefits including money, read on.

The corporate board is still very much a men’s club, according to Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire, author of The Board Game: How Smart Women Become Corporate Directors (Angel City Press, $25, http://winningtheboardgame.com/)

I recently interviewed Betsy about her well-researched and interesting book. It features stories about 58 female directors—plus advice and strategies for landing a board seat.

JA: What inspired you to write this book aimed specifically at women when there are other books out there on how to land a seat on a corporate board?

 BBC: As owner of a retained executive search firm, I hear this question more than any other from women:  “How do I get on corporate boards?”   So I wanted to inform women how to make strategic choices at all stages of their careers in order to position themselves to be considered–because waiting until one retires from work is not the time to look for boards.

Boards want directors who have active and robust networks of current business contacts–not directors who are already retired, unless they are former CEOs. Executive women are realizing that serving on boards is another way to earn money in their later careers, and women executives have developed valuable expertise to help companies of all sizes–public, private and pre-IPO.

Getting on one’s first board is the toughest hurdle for a woman–once she has served on one board, she becomes in a sense “pre-approved” to serve on others.  So my book describes the landscape, the new rules of the game, and the stories of 58 current women directors who reveal how they made it to their first corporate boards.

JA: Do you think more companies today are open to having female directors?

 BBC: It’s a business issue now–ever since Credit Suisse announced its research results last summer (Aug. 2012) The six-year global study revealed that companies with women on their boards out-perform those that don’t have women.  (Change is) also fueled by the research that Catalyst and other respected organizations have done for years showing shareholders and institutional investors are now pressuring corporate boards to perform well.

Having more women on boards is now seen as critical to better performance. So for the first time, I think companies with no women on their boards may become targeted by their investors who will see them as not enlightened and not forward-thinking–and ultimately an unwise investment choice.

JA: What prevents companies from having more female directors? Sexism? Lack of experience?

BCC: Lack of open seats is the primary limiting factor.  As retirement age for every board member approaches, boards should be insisting that women candidates be required to succeed outgoing directors. And the lack of term limits is another key factor that allows aging board members to serve decade after decade–some as many as 40 years or more.  Many serve beyond board retirement age of 72, up to age 75.

There’s a lack of succession planning on boards.  These are all symptoms of inertia, and doing things the traditional way–when the long-term corporate leaders (mostly men) named their friends to lucrative board positions.  The pipeline is now bursting with women executives who have essential experience to add value to corporate boards.

JA: Do you think the ‘old boys’ network’ deliberately prevents boards from inviting more women to serve?

BBC: Yes, I think the ‘old boys’ network is bolstered by preferring the comfortable status quo of having only men on board.  Men want to name their friends to corporate boards, because they know and trust them, and because they want their friends to benefit from the annual director compensation of cash and stock.  However, many women in my book point out that once men actually experience having women on boards, they find out it’s not so bad.  Women bring added value and perspective, and are willing to ask the uncomfortable questions when perhaps men don’t want to appear to challenge the CEO.

JA: What’s the best advice you have for a woman who wants to serve on a board?

BBC: Dedicate yourself to a career-long pursuit to get on to corporate boards in your mid-career 50′s.  With that goal in mind, make the career choices along the way that will build your experience and perspective needed to guide companies wisely.

Throughout your career, become involved with nonprofit organizations where other board members serve on corporate boards–and impress those board members with your expertise.  Throughout your career, become more visible–internally at the company where you work; externally on city, county and state appointments to commissions; get on university and hospital boards, and develop visibility through your trade associations and trade media.

Guard your image and reputation judiciously–make sure Facebook, Linked in, and other social media only have your best photos and career achievements.  Learn the dynamics of serving on a board—from committee structure to Robert’s Rules of Order and the covenants of serving on boards–because boards want new members who already understand board dynamics and will not need on-the-job training.  Attend corporate board training programs like Stanford, Kellogg, UCLA and USC, and “On Board Bootcamps” with Susan Stautberg, founder of the global network called Women Corporate Directors.

To order The Board Game, call: 855.966.3694. 

 Originally posted on SmallBizDaily.com