The Board Question: To Serve or Not to Serve?

I attended a program on Women on Boards: Actionable Strategies to Increase Gender Diversity in the Boardroom sponsored by Women Executive Leadership (WEL) and 2020WOB. The Tampa Club was filled with women of all ages anxious to get a perspective on what can be done. The panel presenting and fielding questions was first class – Carolyn Chin, cofounder/faculty member for “On Board Bootcamps,” (designed to assist primarily women/minorities to join corporate boards); Jan Finely, Board of Directors – Publix, Cynthia McCague, Board of Directors – Pier 1 Imports and Marlene Spalten, President & CEO of The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. Stacie Schaible News Anchor from WFLA Channel 8 did her usual outstanding job moderating.

Many tough questions were asked like: “Why aren’t women on boards?” “What prevents women from being considered?” “How can women prepare to make this leap?” Here’s the gist of what I heard. Women aren’t on as many boards because the good old boy system still exists. Current male board members often rely on their network to refer board members. Even when you are open to including women on a board when your network only knows male C-Suite executives, women miss their chance. Some public companies hire search firms to assist with diversity, but not enough to sway the statistics.

The other reality is that there aren’t enough women in C-Suite positions to pick from. More women need to get real-life experiences as leaders at the executive level before they can join boards. Compounding this challenge is the fact that boards want specialized skills now more than ever. Some examples include global, financial and risk management and merger & acquisition experience.

Preparation is the key. The best way to bridge the gap between where women are now and where they want to be as it relates to board participation is to understand what your skillset is, to educate yourself on what boards are looking for and to map out a plan to build core board competencies. Founder of Young Search Partners and part of WEL’s leadership in Tampa Bay, Katherine Young observes: “There’s a lot of similarities between how you prepare for a board appointment and how you prepare yourself for a job search. What does your strategic plan look like? Do you have target companies that you’re focused on?  Whose radar do you need to be on and how will you market yourself?”