The theme for 2020’s International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual. As the oldest of five daughters, women’s leadership is more than a topic for me. It’s more like something in my DNA. It’s something I’ve made an intentional point to weave into my work and life.
For the past year, I’ve served as the Chair of the Board of Directors for Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland, an organization that serves over 18,000 girls in central and southern Ohio. My role, the role of our board, and the role of the executive leadership team is to affect true change for our Girl Scouts, who are our women leaders of tomorrow. When I meet our girls, and I experience what they’re doing just in my corner of the world, I’m reminded just how amazing these girls will be as women leaders. They’re the women you want leading in your organizations and in your communities.
I hear a lot about the need for women to serve on boards, and specifically making the leap from non-profit to private and publicly traded companies. The benefit and value of diversity is clear. But the reality of women making their way onto those boards is still a mountain to climb. The pipeline is still too narrow.
One place that we can broaden the pipeline of women on boards is by expanding beyond the “traditional” skillsets that a board nominating committee looks for. Typically, nominating committees seek those with financial, audit, and risk management types of acumen. Or they’re seeking former CEOs. These are all important skills, but other equally important skills are routinely being left off the table. To create more diversity and better performance, we need to look beyond traditional skills and C-Level roles. The key is not just a diversity of individuals, but a broader diversity of skills.
In my case, I didn’t come to my role as Chair of the Board with your “traditional” skills or background. Here’s what I bring that’s valued by my board: I’m an entrepreneur who has founded and led a profitable company for 13 years. I have strong sales and marketing skills. I’m a connected networker and a professional speaker. Our board has made an intentional effort to assess current members’ skills, while also looking to the future to determine what skills will be most needed to take our performance to what’s next.
Six Capabilities to Build if You’re an Aspiring Board Member
If you’re an individual who aspires to a board role, what can you do to position yourself for the right opportunity? Below I share six capabilities that I’m seeing as important to build.
- Connect the dots. As a board member or potential board member, how well do you connect the dots between data and the story it is telling? For example, within an organization’s financial statement or strategic priorities, what does that data tell you about where the organization is headed and what the organization needs to consider? The better you are at connecting data and outcomes, the more effective you’ll be as a board member.
- Identify strengths and skills gaps. I don’t have a finance background, and that is a skill I’ve intentionally worked to strengthen. To do so, I joined the finance committee of my board. I’ll never have a finance or accounting degree, but with this experience I’m better able to connect financials to the big picture. Plus, because the committee is full of financial professionals, I bring a different lens and strength to the committee.
- Think strategically. When you have a board, the members should not be in weeds and daily operational activities. The board should bring strategic thinking, fresh ideas, the ability to look multiple steps ahead, and to ask thoughtful questions. Your role is that of an advisor to management, and that’s a very different perspective than that of an employee.
- Know your risk tolerance. What’s your risk tolerance to take on game-changing ideas? This skill goes along with strategic thinking. For organizations to differentiate and be successful, the leaders and board need to align with the breakthrough ideas or initiatives they are supporting. Do you have the right risk tolerance and does the board as a whole have the right risk tolerance? Know where your own comfort lies, and that of your fellow board members. The variety is vital for healthy debate and smart decisions.
- Build the right relationships. If you’re an aspiring board candidate, consider the relationships you need to build to be on a board. Research the types of organizations you want to serve on. Who is currently on the board? Who’s connected to it? Does that organization match your values? What are their strategic priorities? Research what’s happened in the organization for the past 3-5 years. Ensure you are doing due diligence to determine the right fit, and not just filling an opening. Begin to build and maintain relationships with those who may be a resource in helping you to secure an interview or nomination.
- Build a board ready brand. Your leadership brand plays a critical role here. What’s your expertise? What are you known for? It takes time to plan ahead and to build a board ready brand. For example, in the future it’s my plan to be a board director for private companies. To begin elevating that part of my brand now, I include my Board Director title in my LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. I also participate in a mastermind group of other women leaders who share the goal of becoming board directors. The three of us meet, share ideas and network, all focused on that goal.
If we are going to make #EachforEqual a true reality in the very near future, it takes all of us. Board leadership is one place where we can make a significant change today.
Are you ready for your next move? Read this HBR article for more tips and insights on the five types of intelligence that make up well-rounded board members.
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