How To Get A Seat in the Corporate Boardroom

Show up.

Stand up.

Speak up.

This is how we snag ourselves seats in corporate boardrooms, according to Sheila Ronning, CEO and Founder of Women in the Boardroom  (WIB). I talked to her about the most important thing women can do to be on a board, and those three directives were top on her list.

“They can’t just sit back and wait for corporate boards to come looking for them,” she says. “It takes more than a credit card.”

So what does it take? How exactly do we show up, stand up and speak up?

Show up

You start by doing the work. Work hard in your career. Add skills to your resume. Volunteer. Take on big projects. Work with diverse teams. Be involved in opportunities at work and in the community. Be a part of your industry.

As you do all of this, make sure you know and articulate what your value add is. It’s not a term that’s particularly common and it may have misconceptions, so let’s break it down by what it is, so you know how to articulate your value added activities.

Basically, it’s the tangible contributions you make to help your organization succeed, whether that’s your business, the company you work for, a group you volunteer with, or even your family. Your value add is more than getting tasks done. It’s about what you have done to make your group better.

If you’re looking to qualify for a promotion, you won’t get far by simply saying, “I’m doing a great job with finishing all of my projects on time. I’d like a raise.” But walk into the room and say, “I’m doing a great job on my projects and helped improved the process for completing monthly reports, which saved the company x amount of dollars, thanks to automating much of it.” Bam. You’ve got yourself more money.

In order to understand what your value added activities may be, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. What have I done to help my organization save money?
  2. What have I done that customers have loved?
  3. In what ways have I increased sales?
  4. Have I helped save time for people by improving processes?

With an understanding of your value add and the ability to articulate it, you can find boards that you are qualified for. This is all part of showing up.

Stand up

“Knowing who the people are in [your] network to reach out to, as well as when and how to reach out to them is crucial,” says Ronning.

Get out of your seat, out of your comfort zone, and connect with others. You have to put yourself in positions to make these connections if you want to have them. Are you attending industry events? Are you a part of groups within and outside of your organization? If it feels awkward to try and join something, start by volunteering. Offering your time and service makes it easy to feel okay about jumping into a group.

You can also check out these articles from HER Magazine, with more tips on building relationships.

Speak up

Be vocal about your willingness to serve and know your reason why. Ronning suggests asking the following questions to both define your why and to determine if you’re ready and able.

“What is your motivation for serving on a corporate board? Does the company you work with allow you to serve on outside boards? Are you willing to put in the time and effort it takes? In addition to knowing your value add, do you have a board portfolio?”

Reasons for your WHY

If you feel unsure about why you would want to serve on a board, why it matters, check out these statistics Ronning shared.

  1. Companies with women on their boards are financially outperforming those with low representation, according to a census done by UC Davis of the 400 biggest public companies with headquarters in California.
  2. According to Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity, African-American women gained only 19 seats in Fortune 500 boardrooms between 2012 and 2016.
  3. A PwC 2017 Annual Corporate Directors Survey reported 41% of respondents agreed that gender diversity was “very important” to bringing diversity of thought to a board. This was a higher response than results for age, board tenure, international background, and race.

Ronning also shared specific reasons that serving on a board an benefit you. Add these to your WHY list. “Those benefits could include the intellectual challenge of board service, the satisfaction of helping a company get to the next level because of your knowledge and gifts, the compensation, being connected to board influencers and connectors, or the enhancement to your resume or reputation.”

“You don’t get on a corporate board by attending an event,” she says.

So what are you doing today to show up, stand up, and speak up?

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