Board Savvy July 3, 2019

Ask Athena: How Do I Evaluate an Offer to Join a Board? 

By The Athena Alliance

Many women in our community are anxious to join a board. However, that doesn’t mean that the first board opportunity that comes your way is the right one. Recently, a member asked us how she would know if an offer to join a board is the right fit. What are some signs that this board is the right one for me? I know it’s a big commitment and I don’t want to make the wrong decision. 

The following questions can serve as guideposts as you evaluate a board opportunity.

Is it an opportunity you’re excited about?

This may sound obvious, but in the excitement of receiving an offer, many women forget to think about if it’s something they’re truly excited about. A board will require significant time and commitment; like any job, you’re not going to be as enthusiastic about rolling up your sleeves if it’s a business or industry that doesn’t spark intrigue, curiosity, and passion. Additionally, your board term may be several years—that’s a long time to dedicate to something that doesn’t stir deep interest.

Do you have the time?

Board service will require you to attend quarterly meetings and prepare yourself to be the advisor you’ve been brought on to be. But, realistically, do you have the time? An expectation of your time and attendance is typically outlined in the board director spec or even in a proxy statement. You owe it to the organization to deliver what they’re asking for. Keep in mind that different types of boards require different levels of commitment. It’s not unusual, for example, for a startup board or a board of a smaller private company to have weekly interactions with board members, more “off the cuff” conversations, and more consistent communications. 

What is the compensation?

Your compensation is undoubtedly an important factor in considering any career opportunity. If you’re evaluating a public company board role, compensation details should be in the spec and the company’s proxy. Additionally, it’s not unusual to be required to own shares of company stock.  

Do you have your company’s approval?

If you’re not yet retired, ensure you have your current company’s approval to join an outside board. 

Have you done your due diligence?

Before you agree to join a board, you should perform due diligence about the company, including the current board of directors. Of course, you will have met with the CEO and current board directors as part of the interview process. But you should understand the company’s latest filings and challenges, including current litigation. You’ll want to be sure the D&O insurance is adequate to cover the levels and types of risks this particular company may face. You should also understand how the company stays connected to stakeholders like investors, and what their response strategy is in the event an activist investor arises. You should also be comfortable with the internal board dynamics—how the directors interact with each other, how responsibilities are shared, and have a general sense for how business is conducted.

Are you ready to potentially lose your privacy?

If you’re joining a public company board, be prepared: your background, age, work experience, and compensation will be made public.  You’ll likely undergo an extensive background check and may even have your finances scrutinized. Boards of directors are often in the public eye—even more so in recent years—especially when a crisis occurs, or an activist investor launches a public campaign.

Does it feel right? 

As you learn more about board service, your unique value, and increasingly gain board experience, you’ll naturally become more adept at deciding what makes a good opportunity. For some, it may mean working for an iconic brand such as Amazon. For others, the excitement may lie in a particular industry such as emerging technology. 

Not only do you want to be sure this feels right in alignment with your interests, it needs to also align to your values. Think of your own jury of peers in this situation. Would you be joining a board the people you respect the most would respect you for joining? Does the product, industry, or issues surrounding the industry resonates with your values? If not, can you make a difference to ensure they do over time? Will you be “changing the world” in the way you want to?

Take your time

Finally, consider joining a board as a step in your career. Is the timing really now when you consider what the rest of your career is about and where you are headed? And, if board services is a strategic “next career phase” for you, take your time to build your portfolio. It’s okay to start small and then build from there. Very few people land a notable public board seat out of the gate. You may want to join a small private board or two, work hard to help them achieve success and leverage that success into other bigger board opportunities. In all, remember it’s a journey and it should be fun and accretive at every step along the way.