Five Important Tips To Get on a Corporate Board

Contributed by CEO Coach Henna Inam

More and more corporate boards are seeking to diversify their ranks. Yet, in the US only 15.7% of board seats are held by women. The data published by Catalyst, shows companies with three or more women board directors in four of five years outperformed companies with zero women board directors ― by 84% return on sales, 60% return on invested capital, and 46% return on equity.

And corporate boards are one of the best part-time jobs around. Median pay in 2010 was $212,500, up a projected +10% in 2011. That is a pretty good hourly salary for an average of 4.3 hours of work per week according to a survey by NACD.  In addition to a great salary, 96% of board members according to a survey by WCD [PDF] are satisfied with their job. Great salary. Short hours. Great job satisfaction. Does this sound like a job you would like to have?

Here’s the challenge. Many women don’t understand the steps to take early in their careers to best position and prepare themselves to get on boards and miss the boat. Another challenge according to a Heidrick & Struggles 2011 Survey done with the Women Corp Directors group, is that it takes women 6 months longer than men (an average of 2.3 yrs vs. 1.7 yrs) to get on a Board. According to the research [PDF], women feel that the primary reasons why there are fewer women on boards is because of the closed networks that decide who gets on what boards. Men on the other hand believe that fewer women on boards is attributable to the fact that there are fewer women in executive roles to choose from.

Here are 5 practical steps to take to increase your chances of getting on a public company board.

1. Excel at What You Do. Get great experience where you are in your corporate career. Ensure that you have business and financial decision-making experience. Getting P&L responsibility is critical. Boards also look for people who have strong emotional intelligence and can work well with others. According to Mary Madden, Executive Director of WCD and NACD in Atlanta, if you happen to be in a Senior Executive position in a corporation, make sure you understand what restrictions may exist related to you being on a corporate board. On the positive side, it is a huge advantage to have your company’s CEO support your candidacy within his or her networks (see point #4 below).

2. Develop A Clear Articulation of Your Brand/Value Proposition. Start with getting clarity on why you would like to be on a corporate board and what kind of corporate board you want to be on. What is your unique value proposition or personal brand for a prospective board? Why should a board hire you? What unique skill sets and strengths, experiences do you bring? Create a Board resume that highlights your experiences, strengths and skill sets.

3. Get some Non-Profit Board Experience. According to Carol Tomei, CFO of the Home Depot, who sits on the Boards of UPS and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, non-profit boards are an excellent way to start getting Board experience. Make sure that these boards are not rubber-stamp boards but have tough issues to address, where you will learn board governance. If you’re in a large organization, connect with the community relations person and get their advice on a good non-profit board to be on. Make sure you are passionate about the cause, as it requires discretionary time for which you are not getting paid. According to Donna James, CEO of Lardon Associates, being on the board of a powerful non-profit is what gave her exposure to the people and relationships that would eventually result in getting her on the board of the Limited Brands. She also sits on the Boards of Time Warner Cable and Coca Cola Enterprises.

Another option to get experience is to start with smaller company or start-up boards. They often do not pay or pay a whole lot less but you get a feel for the issues and learn to have a voice at the table, learning the difference between being a leader running a company and being on the board of one.

Once on a board, make sure you contribute. According to Martha Brooks who is on the boards of Harley Davidson and Bombardier, your contributions will get noticed and will allow you to be known for other possible Board opportunities.

4. Build a Powerful Network of Relationships. Relationships count. Who to build relationships with? People who are on boards themselves. Connect with recruiters who do Board searches.  Make sure you have your Board pitch and resume ready as you connect with people. You can join organizations such as the NACD to connect with others who are already on boards.

5. Get Educated/Trained on Governance Issues. Some of the major universities have Directors’ colleges. The NACD has chapters and programs across the US some of which are open to non-Directors. The WCD also has programs that are available.

I hope this has been thought-provoking for you to create an action plan for yourself. I welcome connecting with you to help you create a powerful action plan to get on a corporate board.

Henna Inam is a CEO Coach focused helping women become transformational leaders. A Wharton MBA, and former C-Suite executive with Novartis and P&G, her passion is to engage, empower, and energize women leaders to transform themselves and their businesses. Sign up for her blog at

0 Response

  1. Joanne McDonald

    While this article is fine, it is pretty typical of what you see and hear on this topic. However, there are still real barriers. I have 15+ experience on a technology company Board. I am the only woman on the Board. I have lots of prior experinece on non-profit boards and advisory committees; I am a certified director by NACD and I have actively worked at networking and reaching out to find another Board seat. I even established a website with all my board credentials. I believe we talk about women achieving more board seats but the statistics have not changed and the door is only partially open. On top of this,the amount of Board seats open in any given year, I’ve been given to understand by executive search firms that handle Board placements, is small. I remain optimistic that women will take their place in the Board room in increasing numbers but it will be a difficult slow climb.

  2. All the above is good–and here’s my advice about moving forward and getting in the “Board Game”! My company creates ADVISORY Boards for companies. If YOU refer me to a CEO and he/she works with me to create an Advisory Board, YOU could be the Advisory Board Facilitator–or an Advisory Board Member–depending on your skills and expertise. It’s all about relationships. So take action NOW and assist my company in creating more diverse boards! Contact me and let’s move forward creating Advisory Boards!
    Cindy Burrell
    President, Diversity in Boardrooms