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Why and How You Should Join a Board

August 30, 2019 | Filed in: Your Career

“How do I land my first board seat?” is the question frequently asked to members of the talent marketplace, theBoardlist.   Serving on a board feels elusive at best and overwhelmingly difficult at worst, particularly for women and underrepresented minorities. There’s a fairly simple reason for this: The vast majority of board seats are filled via referral and are therefore dependent on the personal networks of CEOs and board directors. Since most CEOs and board directors are men, it’s not surprising that women and other diverse candidates have a hard time trying to figure out how to make their way into the boardroom. Below, members of theBoardlist explain how to navigate considering and ultimately joining a board. 

The demand for female board candidates is skyrocketing. Fueled by the #metoo movement, 2018 California legislation requiring publicly traded companies in the state add women to their boards, and increased awareness about gender diversity in the workplace, companies are actively looking for women to fill their open independent board seats. Moreover, the pipeline of exceptional board-ready female talent has never been stronger.   

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So the better question to ask may be: “How do I make sure that I am one of the women who land their first board seat this year?”

A good starting place is a self-assessment. No, this isn’t a standardized test. It’s a few simple questions to ask yourself before you jump into a board recruiting process.

First, consider what you uniquely bring to a board. At theBoardlist, we encourage candidates to think about what themes tie together their professional experience and what competencies and skills make them stand out in their field. Anddria Clack-Rogers Varnado, VP and Head of Strategy & Business Development at Williams-Sonoma and board member at Umpqua Bank, says, “I found it critical to understand my own value as a board director and be able to communicate it clearly in my discussions with prospective boards.” 

Building a “board pitch,” either on your own or with the help of your network, is a great place to start building your board candidacy. Glo Gordon, Chief Revenue Officer at Uptake and board member at Matrixx, was curious about board service but initially not sure how she could add value.  “As I engaged with my network and prospective boards, the value that I could bring and the types of boards that would be the best fit became clearer.”   

Second, it’s important to think about whether you have the capacity to add a board to your life’s responsibilities. “If you are in an operating role and have other commitments, think through the trade-offs that will be required. Know that boards can meet 3-5 times per year for a day or two at a time, and those meetings require several hours of preparation. It can also become a much larger time commitment if the company is going through a difficult situation,” says Clack-Rogers Varnado.

Finally, why do you want to serve on a board? Given the time commitment, days away from job and family, and the possibility of travel, it’s important to be clear on your motivation—for yourself and the company. Nevertheless, many women find board membership a rewarding way to share their expertise and a great opportunity to learn from other industries how to become more effective at their current job.  

Once you have your personal pitch ready, it’s time to make sure people know you are looking for board roles. “A lot of times people think they will get tapped for a board role because the match is obvious,” says Gordon. “It’s not obvious. You have to tell people what you want and go after it.”  

As women, we sometimes miss this step. Self-promotion can be uncomfortable, but it’s critical to creating opportunity. Make sure that recruiters with whom you have relationships know that you’re interested in board roles. And certainly make sure that any friends, mentors, and colleagues who are in a position to help know about your ambitions.

We can all acknowledge that no one succeeds without the help and support of others. “People are so generous,” Gordon notes. “If they support your career, it’s amazing what they will do for you.” So, invest in your professional relationships. Build a network early. It’s one of the most powerful advantages you will have to create opportunities for yourself in the future.  

To learn more about becoming a candidate on theBoardlist or to search for exceptional female talent to join your company’s board, visit theBoardlist.com.


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Shannon Gordon is a technology executive with expertise in building and scaling new customer experiences. She is currently CEO of theBoardlist, a curated talent marketplace that connects highly qualified female leaders with board opportunities at public and private companies. Before joining theBoardlist, Shannon was SVP Operations and Customer Experience at Shyp, a San Francisco startup that helped small businesses with their shipping needs. She spent more than 5 years at Walmart.com where she served as as VP Customer Experience. Shannon has also worked at McKinsey & Company in Chicago and has an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and a BA from Middlebury College. Read more of Shannon's posts.


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