Contributed by Caroline Ceniza-Levine of SixFigureStart
On Tuesday, February 10th in New York City, the Women’s Executive Circle of New York presented “Tips For Landing That Boardroom Post: An Insider’s View.” The panel to encourage and inform women on how to get on corporate boards featured:
- Ted Jadick, Heidrick & Struggles Managing Partner and search recruiter for many top Fortune 500 corporate boards
- Yvonne Jackson, President of Beecher Jackson and board member of several non-profit and corporate boards
- Nancy Newcomb, a retired senior executive of Citigroup and board member of several non-profit and corporate boards
The panel was moderated by Nicole Sebastian, Heidrick & Struggles, an associate in the Corporate Boards practice group.The panel acknowledged that women are underrepresented on the boards of the largest companies and that the focus of existing boards on candidate “fit” contributes to this. But the panel also encouraged women not to assume that board invitations are a closed network.
Jadick noted that the search process for board seats has undergone a noticeable change over the last 15 years to resemble an actual process, including identifying the target background for the vacant board seat, looking for the matching skills, and having a nominating committee to vet the candidates. Jackson quoted a Spencer Stuart study that found that 60% of board seats come from a search process (v. 20% from board referrals, 14% from management team, and 5% from large shareholders). So, with an encouraging 60% of seats open to recruitment, women with an interest in board work should get into the line of sight of these board recruiters.
After the panel, Nicole Sebastian was happy to share advice and encouragement for women aspiring to board seats. Her work with Heidrick & Struggles focuses on the Fortune 100 seats, which would be a stretch for anyone male or female for a first board seat. She recommends that women target Fortune 1000 or even smaller companies. Find the recruiters working on these searches. Find people who know the boards of these smaller companies. Sebastian sees a trend of senior management looking lower in the ranks for board recommendations – not just C-suite and executive management, but senior VP levels are asked for nominations. So women shouldn’t wait till they are in the upper eschelons of their career before targeting board work.
All the panel members recommended working on non-profit boards to get a feel for board work, as well as to expand their networks and raise their visibility. As a former board member for a small theatre company, I heartily second that recommendation. Board work is a great way to expand your industry and functional focus, improve sales skills (fundraising is a big part of non profit board work), and meet people from other companies and sectors. Board work is rigorous (the panel mentioned that corporate board work takes an average 230 hours per year, the equivalent of one month of full-time work). However, board work is a good career builder for women and, given the lack of women board members to date, a good trail blazer for younger women.