Creating A Path To Getting On A Board

I was recently asked to give advice to an amazing group of women about getting on boards. This is a request I receive frequently which is why we are thrilled to partner with the Small Business Administration, LinkedIn and 16 other organizations to launch the ONBOARD Initiative. The Open Network for Board Diversity is looking to increase the number of women and underrepresented talent on corporate boards.

Landing a board position is very much tied to how successfully you navigate your career path and develop and nurture your network. Sounds straightforward and easy but in reality not so much!

We would all like a playbook to help guide us through our career. The need for “insider” tips and strategies is especially keen for the millions of women in the workplace who will find themselves at an inflection point whether they are looking to excel in their current role/company, feeling stuck and seeking a new opportunity, or looking to re-engage in the formal workplace. They will all face and ask the same question: Where do I start?

Here are some of the best lessons I’ve learned throughout my journey to start answering that question:

1. Develop a strong personal brand. What’s the most important brand of all? Yours! Whether you’re looking for a new career opportunity or simply wanting to raise your game, putting the time into building your personal brand is essential. Get visible and make sure you can tell a compelling story of accomplishments, skills and talents. You want your name to be top of mind when opportunities are being discussed.

2. Have a personal board of directors. Your network is one of the most important assets you have. Moreover, the workplace at times can be a bit isolating. Develop a strong personal board of advisors – a personal dream team in your corner. A strong personal board of directors should have six types of members –a mentor, a sponsor, a connector, a point expert, a close friend, and an executive coach.

3. Cultivate Your Voice – Ask the question! Think of what you would most want to know or what you find troubling and speak up. Chances are there are others in the room or around the table thinking the same thing. You also have the ability to change the course by being authentic and letting your voice be heard.

4. Negotiate your compensation. It’s imperative that we advocate for ourselves. We have to know our worth and make the ask. The consequences go beyond leaving significant money on the table. First, it is often difficult to close the salary gap once you have fallen behind. Second, we have to be able to ask not only for salary but also for additional opportunities and/or promotions. Beyond the fact that you’re not advocating for yourself, the lack of negotiating on your own behalf may lead to questions about your ability to manage, especially as you move up in your organization.

While many of us have a goal to serve on a board, many of us don’t have a plan. There is a path to getting on a board similar to there being a path to career success. Very few people can go from not serving on a board to landing a Fortune 500 seat at the table.

Putting a thoughtful plan in place is key:

1. Think about the non-profit boards in which you currently serve or would like to join. Pick organizations that you are passionate about but also give you an opportunity to contribute and build your fiduciary skills.

2. Develop your target list based on this framework or plan an exit plan for the ones that don’t fit.

3. Serve on the membership committee, which gives you an active hand in learning what goes into the selection and success of board candidates.

4. Serve on the finance or audit committee and build transferable skills that are relevant for any stage of company. Companies will always need independent board members on this committee.

5. Lead a fundraising event or campaign that leverages a host of critical skills and builds your network and visibility.

6. Target start up or growth companies that will round out your non-profit experience and start building your for-profit portfolio. There’s the added benefit that smaller companies move at a faster pace and therefore can accelerate both your learning and your pattern recognition skills.

7. Let your interests be known. You can’t be considered if no one knows you’re interested.

8. When you land the position, speak up and always contribute in a thoughtful and meaningful way. Many of your fellow board members also serve on other boards and often times recommend people they have worked with before. Additionally, the CEO and your colleagues will be your best references.

9. Before you accept any position, do your due diligence. Understand the board role and dynamics as well as the health and trajectory of the company.

About the author

Lisa Skeete Tatum is founder and CEO of Landit, a technology platform created to increase the success and engagement of women in the workplace, and to enable enterprises to attract, develop, and retain high-potential diverse talent. Landit provides each woman with a personalized playbook that empowers them with the tools, resources, know-how, and human connections they need to more successfully navigate their career path.

Previously, Lisa was a General Partner for over a decade with Cardinal Partners, a $350M+ early stage healthcare venture capital firm, where she focused on investments in healthcare technology. Lisa worked for Procter & Gamble in various global and functional roles, GE Capital and Circle of Beauty, a health and beauty startup. In addition, she founded her own consulting practice specializing in strategic operational development for medium-sized consumer products companies.

Lisa serves on the boards of Surgical Care Affiliates (NASDAQ:SCAI), McCarter Theater and the Princeton Area Community Foundation. She is a trustee emeritus and presidential councilor at Cornell University and serves on the Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors. She is a past president of the Harvard Business School Alumni Board and a former board member of Pager, the Kauffman Fellows Program’s Center for Venture Education and the Princeton HealthCare System Foundation. She has served on the board of numerous high growth companies.

Lisa received her BS in chemical engineering from Cornell University and her MBA from Harvard Business School. She is a member of the Kauffman Fellows Class 4, a 2012 Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.

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