Desperately seeking female directors

One of the most hotly sought assets for corporate boards these days is a woman director. You may think well-qualified women would find it easy to land seats in the boardroom, but surprisingly few get there – or know where to start their search.

by Business Week
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

With women making up only about 16% of directors of the top 200 Standard & Poor's 500 companies (according to the Spencer Stuart 2006 Board Diversity Report), it is clear that women are severely under-represented at board level.

Negative publicity about the perils of board membership may be partly to blame. In the post-Enron/WorldCom world, directors face increased scrutiny and exposure. Also, boards demand increasingly long time commitments, often around 250 hours per year.

However, attractive rewards – up to $160,000 per year, on average – for the top 1000 companies, and good prospects for professional growth, still make board membership a good bet.

'Crammer' courses aimed at coaching women in how to search for and market themselves to interested boards are becoming more popular, including OnBoard Bootcamp, a course run by two US businesswomen, Susan Stautberg and Carolyn Chin.

The course aims to tell women everything they need to know about the ins and outs of becoming a director, and how to maximise their appeal to interested companies.

Some of the tips for success include:

Enhance your 'Googability'
"If you're name doesn't come up, you have a problem," says Chin. Search firms and companies see media presence as a sign of candidate credibility, so it's important to be 'out there' getting heard. Writing articles and opinion pieces are advisable, says Stautberg, and a good way of highlighting professional achievements.

Hone your 'elevator pitch'
The ability to sell yourself to a recruiter or board member in 90 seconds or less, is an important skill. "Think about what you want to be remembered for," advises Chin.

Serve on advisory or non-profit boards
If you don't have corporate board experience, this is a good training step and way of increasing visibility. Corporates often assemble advisory boards to brainstorm new ideas or work through specific problems.

Be an interviewer as well as an interviewee
Asking smart questions can tell you a lot about the company. Chin's favourite question to ask a CEO or board chairman is "What keeps you up at night?". Preparation and scrutiny of the company is essential for building trust and ensuring compatibility. Chin and Stautberg also advise researching the skills of the other directors to see what skills the board needs.

Get protected
Checking the size and scope of the directors' insurance policies is vital, as is doing some homework to see if the company has been sued, and for what. Chin and Stautberg also advise reviewing coverage levels with an external risk manager, and suggest discussing the possibility of the company providing an additional policy to cover independent director liability.

Ultimately, what gets you a board seat is based on your experience and verve, not your attendance at a seminar. But the prep can help you get in shape for the search.

So You Wanna Be a Director? By Toddi Gutner
Business Week, 10th July 2006
Review by James Curtis

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