Welcome To Your Athena Journey!

Getting Started

This portal is a comprehensive resource for board service preparation and includes opportunities for connecting with the Athena community and applying for board opportunities.

When you dismiss this message, you will see your "Journey Dashboard." This dashboard is your roadmap for growth and has been specially designed to prepare you for board service.

You'll start with "Goal Setting and Journey Planning" with your mentor and then move into phase work. Please note that, although all phase resources are available to you at any time, we strongly suggest completing your current phase before moving on to the next.

If ever you get lost, simply click the "My Journey" button in the upper right-hand corner of the site to return to your Journey Dashboard. It is of the utmost importance to us that this portal provide you with all resources you need to reach your board goals. Please don't hesitate to reach out to coco@athenaalliance.org with any questions, concerns, or suggestions.

Thank you for being a member of The Athena Alliance. We look forward to the journey ahead!

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The Athena Alliance – Year 1

By | The Athena Program | No Comments

Athena Alliance - Year 1

Just under 18 months ago, a group of dedicated, powerhouse executive women made the decision to upgrade their regular meetings to a mission-driven non-profit organization — dedicated to furthering gender parity on corporate boards. Since then, the Athena Alliance has made incredible strides in seeing this objective through to fulfillment. Our vision is of a world where everyone benefits from the indisputable value of women contributing at the highest levels of leadership, alongside men and in parity – 50/50. Our first mission in achieving this vision is to bring more women to the boardroom by supporting women in the last mile efforts to get them in the right place at the right time and ready to share their unique and relevant value. Further we support our mission by enhancing the intimate network of boards and making introductions to the right women for the vacant seats they need to fill.

Our first 18 months have been spent mostly as an unknown entity relying on critical early believers like Autodesk, Intuit, Microsoft, OpenView Venture Partners, Deloitte and PwC and a few key connections within our small team to drive opportunity and awareness. We all worked hard to contribute far more than we might ever see come back to us to build relationships, deliver value and spread the word. We are now beginning to see ourselves on a national stage, with VCs calling Athena, with F500 companies reaching out and women and boards spreading the word of the great value they are getting.

Board Matches

In just 18 months, we have supported more than 30 boards and women from all over the US in the consideration of women directors. Within this, we have more than 20 actively considering Athena women today (a combination of both private and public companies). Six have brought Athena women to their boards. Beyond these end results, the meaningful expansion of networks for women and boards is almost immeasurable. We’ve put forward more than 150 women, ensuring “eyeballs” to their profiles, and we’ve secured more than 60 first interviews, many resulting in multiple interviews with board directors and CEOs.

Member Growth

While we have well over 700 C-level women in our close network, by the end of the year we expect more than 100 will be Athena members (we have 94 now). These women are Pioneers (already on a public company board), or Aspiring Directors (breadth and level of leadership clearly qualified to serve on a private — generally series B or later — or public board). Our members get white-glove, high-touch, 1:1 and intimate group coaching around board selection readiness. We also work actively to enhance their networks in the right ways, connecting them to CEOs, VCs, seated directors and board recruiters. And, we help raise their visibility through PR, speaking opportunities and awards.

Amazing Feedback

We have received incredible feedback from the CEOs and board members of those companies we have worked with so far.

“Sourcing world class board members is a tough challenge for a startup. Typically, our options are limited to going through our existing board, or personal networks. Athena opened up a new channel for us, and allowed us to meet incredibly talented and driven women execs who were board ready. I could not recommend Athena more strongly if sourcing world class women leaders for your board is important to you.” – Lawrence Coburn, CEO – DoubleDutch

“The Athena Alliance connected us with a broad array of incredibly talented women from a variety of disciplines, all with deep knowledge and experience in various technology sectors. Importantly, the process could not have been easier and more enjoyable.” – Rick Smith, CEO – Axon

“… The Athena Alliance has given me an incredibly high quality peer group to network with and learn from. The connections I’ve made through Athena are with people who truly care about supporting each other and have the wisdom and experience to add Value.”  – Amy Bunszel, VP of Digital Products – Autodesk, Athena member

“Athena has a unique approach to not just help women prepare for board service, butbuilding an active network that connects boards directly with candidates. Within monthsof joining Athena I was in conversation with a Fortune 500 company.” – Obi Felten, Head of Moonshots – X (Formerly Google X), Athena member

Acquired Funding

Athena closed 2016 with total contributions slightly over $300,000, in large part due to a few key believers – Autodesk, Intuit, DLA Piper, and those 35 women I mentioned earlier. 2017 could be a $1,000,000 year, enabling us to accelerate impact on a much bigger scale. We have $800,000 in our sights now and are preparing to launch in two new regions. I want to encourage you to put our December 7th fundraiser on your calendar (more info coming to our site) and do what you can to help us raise the last $200,000 to reach, not only a goal, but significantly enhanced momentum and power for a very worthy vision.

We are honored to report such wonderful success in such a short time. It takes a village, and we are blessed with an amazing one. Athena is devoted to making even more progress in the rest of 2017 and in years to come. Join us, and let’s move this needle at an acceptable rate together! Please visit us at www.athenaalliance.org to learn more.

Good Companies Doing Good Things

By | Board Gender Diversity, The Athena Program | No Comments

Good Companies Doing Good Things

The Athena Alliance is on a mission to improve gender parity in the boardroom – and to create a movement that inspires companies to think about inclusion and diversity at the top levels of their organizations. The movement is gaining momentum. Though we still have a long way to go to see equal female representation in leadership roles and board positions, we are seeing the tide begin to change – and we couldn’t be happier.

We want to acknowledge a few good companies doing good things in 2017 – namely, giving deserving women a seat at the table.

Fortune 500 Companies:

Disney brought their board composition to 33% female with the addition of General Motors Chairman and CEO, Mary Barra.

Wells Fargo selected Elizabeth Duke, former governor of Federal Reserve, as the first female chairman in the board’s 165-year history.

3M elected Amy Hood, EVP and CFO at Microsoft Corp, to the board.

Boeing increased female representation with the addition of Caroline Kennedy, ambassador, attorney, author, editor and STEM supporter to the board.

Cracker Barrel Country Store elected Meg Crofton, Walt Disney veteran, to the board.

 

Private Companies:

The news is positive for startups as well!

Lyft selected Obama advisor, Valerie Jarrett, to join the board. Girls Who Code added Chief Brand Officer of Uber, Bozama St. John, to its board. Redfin, DFJ, Greylock Partners, Madrona Venture Group, Pioneer Square Labs, & Boardspan all pledged to diversify startup boards through their #DiverseFromtheStart campaign.


The Athena Effect

Athena’s aim is to effectively position qualified, top-level executive females for positions on public and private boards. Over the past 18 months, we have supported more than 30 companies in finding women for open board seats. We would also like to acknowledge a few good companies who have brought Athena women onto their boards:

DoubleDutch – Alison Watson, Introduced by Athena

Jitterbit – Kara Wilson, Introduced by Athena

Axon – Julie Cullivan, Introduced by Athena

Banner Bank – Merline Saintil

Forrester – Yvonne Wassenaar, Introduced by Athena

MobileIron – Jessica Denecour

Morningstar – Caroline Tsay

We love to hear about and share news on steps toward improving board diversity, and this is just a short list. Please share accomplishments you know of, and we’ll pass on the recognition!

If you are interested in increasing the diversity of your board – or you are a senior-level executive female looking for a board seat – please visit athenaalliance.org to learn more about our organization. Let’s all do our part to keep up the good work!

Athena Alliance Hosts Joann Lublin

By | Announcements, The Athena Program | No Comments

Athena Alliance Hosts Joann Lublin

The Athena Alliance is honored and excited to share that next Friday, September 8, we will come together with DLA Piper and Deloitte to host Joann S. Lublin, Wall Street Journal editor and Pulitzer Prize winning author of Earning It. Joann will engage in a Fireside Chat with Athena Alliance CEO, Coco Brown, then participate in an intimate panel discussion with an incredible group of Athena CEOs:

Joann’s book, Earning It, chronicles many of the obstacles successful women in the business world, including herself, have faced as they climbed the ladder to find a top spot. The topic for the evening will focus on inspirational stories of finding mentors, overcoming challenges, and the ways in which positive male leadership and a strong peer network have supported their career growth to the top. We are looking forward to hearing from Joann and our fellow pioneering woman for a night of encouragement, motivation and camaraderie.

If you are an executive woman interested in joining Athena, a CEO or a Board Influencer and would like to join us for similar events in the future, please visit athenaalliance.org to learn more about our mission, membership and upcoming events.

What is the Bystander Effect?

By | Board Gender Diversity | No Comments

What is the Bystander Effect?

This March, I called on male business leaders across the U.S. to step up, push past the bystander effect and make a difference in bringing women to the boardroom.

Certainly there have been incredible steps towards the goal of moving this needle significantly. Highly public boards, including Lyft, Tesla and a host of others have recently added women, some for the first time. State Street Corp recently voted against the re-election of members across 400 boards as a penalty for not having women seated at the table. Even public companies not under potential scrutiny, including Axon and Forrester, have seated women to their boards, with help from The Athena Alliance. Despite reports that the number of women on corporate boards has actually decreased, we are seeing progress.

Even in the face of this undeniable progress, we are still hampered by the phenomenon known as “bystander effect.” In my recent article, “Powerful Men and the Bystander Effect”, I touch on this concept and its role in preventing influential men from taking action towards moving women onto board seats. Understanding this effect can help us work towards eliminating it in our mission for diverse boardrooms.

Social psychologists coined the term “bystander effect” to describe the experience in which the presence of other witnesses diffuses one’s sense of responsibility in taking action against wrong-doing. The term came in response to a 1964 stabbing in New York City in which a woman died while witnesses stood by, doing nothing. Psychologists posit that the effect comes from a misconception that others will take action or from fear of being judged by others who are watching.

Though the consequences of the bystander effect can clearly be more dire in cases involving crimes like murder or assault, we nonetheless see the effect playing out in the push for equality at the boardroom table. Studies have shown that, in order to make real progress in this realm, the push must come from those at the highest levels of the company. That number is still largely white and male. Unfortunately, a substantial amount of these leaders harbor the belief that, because there is currently so much attention on this issue, the involvement of a few passionate influencers is enough. In truth, every C-suite member and founder must pay attention and take action to move this needle at an acceptable pace.

The good news is male leaders can start to move the needle without needing to  step directly into the spotlight. While public support for women on boards is much-needed and appreciated, male leaders can often have a strong effect by taking action on a more local level. If you hold one of these influential roles as a white man, take a look around your boardroom and leadership roles. Are women and minorities represented adequately? A good way to answer this question is to look at your demographics – your board should aim to mirror this breakdown.

If looking here doesn’t yield a “yes”, start by seeking out qualified women within your network that you may not have considered before. Look past qualifications like CEO experience and taking companies public. Avoid establishing a unicorn description that excludes qualified and capable female leaders. Once you locate these women in your company, work with them and on their behalf to advance their escalation up the ladder to leadership roles and board seats. Vouch for them, sponsor them and provide mentorship.

If you look at your company and somehow do not find qualified women for these roles, The Athena Alliance can help. Our network of over 500 board-ready C-level executive women can expand your director options and help you take the first step toward breaking away from the bystander effect.

How Athena Helped The Leader In Law Force Technology Bring a Woman to The Board: Julie Cullivan Joins the Board of Axon

By | Announcements, Board Gender Diversity, Board Matching, The Athena Program | One Comment

As of Wednesday, July 19, law enforcement technology giant, AXON has welcomed Athena Alliance member, Julie Cullivan to its Board of Directors. We are incredibly honored to have assisted in the placement of such a talented woman and excited to see the positive impact Julie can make in this role.

Axon CEO, Rick Smith, was introduced to Athena by the Head of Talent for a prominent Bay Area VC firm. With just one coffee and a follow-up phone call, Athena was able to suggest a number of terrific woman to consider. Rick Smith talked about this process and his experience in a video interview shared on the Athena YouTube channel. Rick touched on the importance of boards evolving with the company and shared how having diverse members, who are readily available through programs like the Athena Alliance, can help expand the impact of such an important decision.

Julie Cullivan has recently acquired a new role as SVP, Business Operations and CIO of ForeScout Technologies, following four and a half years as EVP, Business Operations and CIO at FireEye. At FireEye, Julie helped create and implement the company strategy, leading Business Operations and Information Technology through an IPO that increased the company’s overall revenue from $80 million to over $700 million and establishing their worth as a billion dollar corporation.

In her new role at ForeScout Technologies, Julie will build and maintain information security strategies for the Internet of Things company and lead actions across the company to move forward, namely through implementation of innovative technology solutions.

Julie brings an impressive skillset and portfolio to the Axon board, having secured her place as a thought leader in numerous aspects of technology, including cyber security, business digitization and more, and adding her experience in sales, channel and marketing operations, women in security and developing powerful, effective teams.

The Athena Alliance was pleased to work with Axon in taking steps toward a more diverse, representative board. In combination with Axon’s effort for diversity, Julie Cullivan’s expertise in technology and passion for gender diversity on boards is a promising move for the company, for Julie and for The Athena Alliance. Congratulations, Julie!

“I’m extremely happy to welcome Ms. Cullivan to Axon’s Board of Directors. Her combined extensive business, sales operations, IT and cyber security expertise brings huge value to the Axon Board of Directors. The value of such expertise can hardly be overstated at a time when our Company continues to grow, expand and evolve.”  

–  Axon CEO and founder, Rick Smith

If you want to introduce us to a board that could benefit from the support Axon received through Athena, email me coco@athenaalliance.org. I’m very bullish about our ability to make great introductions quickly and frictionlessly.

How Much are Silicon Valley Boards Improving Gender Diversity?

By | Board Gender Diversity | No Comments

Findings from the Fenwick & West Gender Diversity 2016 Proxy Season Survey, which looks at women’s positions on boards based on SEC data since 1996, point to a few promising trends and areas where Silicon Valley’s top public firms surpass the S&P 100 in their inclusion.

2016 continued a long-term trend in the SV 150 (top 150 public companies in Silicon Valley) of increasing the number of women directors. Since their 2014 survey, the average percentage of women directors increased 4 percentage points in the SV 150 to 14% and in the S&P 100 rose just 2 percentage points to 23% (with the top 15 companies in the SV 150 increasing 6.5 percentage points to 22%). However, 25% of SV 150 still have NO women on their board.

Women Directors - 2016 Proxy Season DistributionKey excerpts from the 2016 Fenwick Survey:

Why so few women directors on SV company boards?

In addition to their focus on CEO experience and their own networks that plague many nominating committees when searching for new board members,  additional factors that contribute to the lack of women on the boards of technology and life sciences companies in the SV 150 appear to be that:

  • SV firms’ average board size is smaller than S&P 500;
  • VCs hold many of the seats on SV firms, as they hold sizable shares of the companies’ stock, and women make up a small percentage of such investors.How do women directors fare in leadership positions on SV company boards?

How do women directors fare in leadership positions on SV company boards?

The frequency with which women are included in leadership positions on the board is useful as an important indicator of whether they are being viewed as equal partners with their male peers. While the numbers of women remain relatively small, the SV 150 and the Top 15 SV have surpassed the S&P 100 in this measure.

In recent years, the top 15 largest companies in the SV 150 have surpassed the S&P 100 in percentage of women in board leadership positions, including board chairs, lead directors and committee chairs.

What’s more, when measured in terms of likelihood of being in a board leadership position among women who serve as board members, the top 15 of the SV 150 and the SV 150 overall have been significantly more likely to include women in board leadership positions than the S&P 100.  

Women board chairs are rare at public companies around the world. That is also true for the SV 150 (4.2%) and the S&P 100 (6.0%), although the Top 15 SV companies had more women in this position (13.3%). A major reason for this low number is that many CEOs also serve as chair of their board, and there are few women CEOs.

S&P 100 companies tended to have more women as a percentage of the total number of audit committee members, but the increase in women has been much greater for SV firms during the past 21 years (S&P 100 moving from 14.9% in 1996 to 24.8% in 2016; SV 150 moving from only 1.3% in 1996 to 17.9% in 2016.  The SV 15 has the highest number of women with 29.1% last year.  

Women Directors on Audit Committees

Women Directors on Audit Committees 

For more detailed information about other committees and executive management, download their executive summary or their full report.

The Athena Alliance works closely with SV firms to expand their networks to women qualified to serve on their boards. We are here to help. Just ask us how we can introduce you to the talent you need.

Finding Your Unique Selling Proposition

By | Board Bio, The Athena Program | One Comment

Gary Purece is one of several executive advisors for Athena members.  He is a communications advisor who assists executives in clearly articulating their corporate and personal brand message.  Athena Alliance members receive two hours of coaching with Gary to start the process of writing their own board bio for future placement.

Gary penned this advice on how to identify your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)a term which is interchangeable with “value proposition” or “brand statement.”

Think advertising… 

Advertising works only when the words differentiate the product from similar products. BMW differentiates itself with “the Ultimate Driving Machine” (the word car is not even mentioned); GE states “We make things that very few in the world can, but that everyone needs.” These slogans depict a unique selling proposition to help these two companies stand out for those in the market for similar goods and services.

The Unique Selling Proposition contains words that, when clearly stated, explain how you solve problems or help make the company relevant, meet specific needs, and explain to the listener why they should choose you. The USP establishes the unique differentiation between you and the competition.

As an example, I chose the following USP; “Coaching that helps executives communicate with confidence and authority.” In one sentence, I describe my audience (executives), what I do (verbal communication coaching), and the impact (communicate with confidence and authority).

Today, the differentiator statement is not just a necessity, it is a requirement.

As you continue to review your brand statement (it is a work-in-process statement) the following questions will help you refine and update your USP.

  • What is unique about the way I think?
  • What makes me distinctive as a leader?
  • What impact do others expect from me?
  • What impact do others receive from me?
  • What types of solutions do I consistently deliver?
  • What is my legacy/what do I want my legacy to be?

Competition for board seats can be fierce. In order to earn a spot, you must present your unique value to the reader and listener. This is your USP.

Thanks to Gary’s 1:1 coaching on this process, Athena members can clearly define their value in their bios, their LinkedIn profiles and their elevator pitches so that board members seeking directors can more easily see the reasons to consider them.

 

Having Your Voice at the Table

By | The Athena Program | No Comments

In making my decision to join the Leadership Team of The Athena Alliance, I looked at various parts of the program that distinguish it from other board preparation programs. The voice coach is one benefit that jumped out at me.

Voice is one of the most powerful ways by which we convey intent, emphasis, and lasting impression. Yet, very few of us understand how to use the power of voice effectively. Worse, most of us are unconscious of current speaking habits that undermine our authority, negatively impact the way we are perceived and ultimately keep us from having the impact and success we want in the world.

As your journey towards the boardroom progresses, you will be evaluated on what you say and how you say it. Are you conveying your intent, conveying both strength around your conviction and confidence, while at the same time communicating the warmth and openness you want to express to invite discussion and collaboration? If you aren’t perceived as someone the board wants to spend time with for the next 6-10 years, your chances of being selected drop significantly, no matter what your skills.

Voice expert and Athena coach, Hillary Wicht, plays a key role in your membership journey. Through 1:1 coaching with Hillary, you’ll be able to: uncover unconHillary Wichtscious habits that are undermining your authority; learn tools you can begin implementing immediately to create the impact you want to have; understand the psychology behind what it means to earn trust and confidence with your communication.

And, having your seat at the table is not the same as having your voice at the table. If you cannot command a space with your voice, you will not be able to fully leverage your knowledge and authority. If you cannot get a word in—if you make a suggestion that seems to go unnoticed, then your colleague three chairs down makes the same suggestion and suddenly the room is buzzing with praise—you are not owning and extending the power of your voice.

This benefit of membership is one of many elements in Athena’s white-glove approach to presenting you as the best choice for a board position and in assisting you in showing up as a great board member once at the table.

by Nancy Sheppard, Member, Athena Leadership Team

 

The Athena Alliance Welcomes Nancy Sheppard, Founder of Women2Boards, to Our Leadership Team

By | Announcements | No Comments

There is no shortage of qualified women for boards, but there is a need to connect these exceptional women to boards looking to fill an open seat. The current pace of change toward gender parity in the boardroom is 1% per year. At this rate parity for the largest companies will be achieved in 30 years, and for the smallest 50 or more.

The need for an organization that can scale to accelerate the pace of change has become increasingly apparent. We believe Athena is that organization! We expect to see significant expansion for the organization in 2017 through membership development, program sponsorships, and board opportunities. To accelerate our own scale and ability to drive change, Nancy Sheppard, who has expertly led Women2Boards with the same mission, is joining us. Her addition provides us with more resources to augment that expansion.

Nancy founded Women2Boards in late 2014 to provide matching services for smaller company boards. Women2Boards also assisted its members on their journey, providing 1:1 coaching and guidance as they explored board opportunities. Since its inception, the organization has served over 100 women nationwide, and has made more than 30 referrals of qualified women to boards and search firms.

Since Athena’s inception less than one year ago, we have connected women with 17 board opportunities at organizations of all sizes, from large public companies to late-stage private companies; there are more board opportunities on deck to be added this quarter. The organization has received more than $400,000 in donations, including major support from industry leaders Autodesk, Intuit and DLA Piper.

The Athena Alliance is not a recruiting firm and it is not a board training program. Rather, the organization serves as an extension of a board’s intimate network, introducing them to incredible executive women. At the same time, we are an essential part of a woman’s support structure, helping her overcome the ‘last mile’ barriers to board service and ensuring that she is prepared, such that when she is tapped for a board opportunity it’s hers if she wants it.

Nancy will join The Athena Alliance as a member of our Leadership Team with a focus on membership advisory services for women preparing to serve in board roles. She will also drive communications strategies and programs to advance Athena’s mission.

Nancy’s past experience includes 20+ years as CEO and director, Western Independent Bankers, founding board member for a bank services corporation, and trustee for a workers’ self-insurance group. She was a member of the leadership team at the California Bankers Association and spent several years on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Her record of working in male-dominated environments has given her a passion to assist more women break through the boardroom ceiling. She was selected as one of the Most Influential Women in Business by the San Francisco Business Times. Because of her leadership in the board diversity movement, she was asked to chair the 2020 Women on Boards San Francisco, National Discussion on Board Diversity for the past two years.

I am delighted that Nancy is joining Athena and bringing with her the best practices and wisdom she has developed through Women2Boards. Her past experience, obvious passion for and dedication to helping women as they reach for a board seat will be an incredible asset to our program..

 

The Boardroom: By Invitation Only

By | Board Gender Diversity, Board Matching, Board Readiness | No Comments

Being considered for an open board seat is an “invitation only” affair. Why? Because deciding who to put on the board is a deeply personal, high stakes decision for the CEO and other board directors. Therefore, you must be part of a trusted network to be seriously considered.

It is important to note that this “invitation only” experience is not usually associated with large, high-profile companies. Larger companies are likely to have brought on more than a few directors over the years and developed a mature Nominating Committee structure and process. They are also likely to hire a recruiting firm to support them. Instead, board additions made through a trusted network are usually those of the young, or small to mid-cap public companies, or well-backed private companies on a trajectory toward a winning exit and looking for their first or second independent director.

Why is the process an “invitation only” experience with these companies? For two very personal reasons:

  1. The process is the only one in which the CEO participates in hiring their own boss.
  2. This new director will be on the board for six to 10 years, or even decades.

Considering these facts, it’s not surprising that personal success and company success are obscurely intertwined in the board decision process. In such a high-stakes situation, board members, usually men, will usually pick — consciously or unconsciously — someone from their network. More often than not, this person will look a lot like them. This inevitability, when viewed through the lens of unconscious bias, makes the progress of diversity in the boardroom achingly slow.

However, when an informed advocate for diversity enters the network and is able to make the case for diverse board candidates, change can happen very quickly. This change relies on access, influence, and positioning. It also requires an awareness of the perspective of the CEO and the board as a whole, who will be evaluating candidates by asking:

  • “Will this person add value?” (i.e. “Will the company thrive as a result of what this person brings to the table?” “Will they evolve as quickly as we do?)
  • “Can we, the board, trust them?” (i.e. “Will they have our best interests at heart?””When we need to make a tough call, do we share the same values and leverage them in similar ways?” “Do we know their triggers, and can they manage them well?”)

“Will our chemistry be strong?” (i.e. “Do we ‘get’ them?” “Do they ‘get’ us?” “Do we understand how they think?” “Will our collaboration make all of us better leaders for this company?”)

Here are my thoughts on the best ways to move the needle more quickly for women (or anyone outside the network) within the realities of how board selection decisions are made.

Access

For those of us sponsoring women, our sharpest focus should be on joining the trusted network of CEOs, VCs, and seated board directors. It is almost guaranteed that these individuals will be male and that their network will not boast many qualified women. Becoming a part of their trusted network means that you are more likely to be made aware of open board opportunities and to be able to put forward qualified women for those roles.

To become part of this trusted network, you must consciously pursue it. If you are a senior executive or in the C-suite, you know at least one CEO, are likely to interact with your company’s board, and are probably invited to events where you mingle with CEOs and board directors. To be aware of open board positions and put forward qualified women, strengthen your connections with these individuals and ask them for introductions to other CEOs, VCs, and seated directors.

I have yet to meet a male leader who won’t consider a woman candidate when they are recommended by someone they trust. In fact, when I tell CEOs, VCs, and seated board directors that I know women who would be excellent choices, their response is usually, “Great! Please introduce me to them so I can consider them for the role.”

Influence

When my organization (The Athena Alliance) speaks with a board influencer or decision-maker about an open board seat, we are careful to move past the discussion of a candidate’s desired title, industry, and company size. We are quick to ask “why” these details matter to them. This question expands the conversation to include the trajectory of the business model and its services, the opportunities and challenges the business faces in scaling, the gaps in the experience and capability of the existing board, and the thought leadership and temperament that is desired in this next director. The result is a broadening of the possibilities around board fit.

The Athena Alliance is a mission-based organization working to advance gender diversity in the boardroom. We are not a recruiting firm and are not hired by the board to find a director. However, we do make introductions between boards seeking directors, and amazing women for them to consider. To begin a dialogue with the CEO and board, we approach them as a trusted member of their network and develop credibility by demonstrating our ability to understand the needs of their business. With this trust and credibility comes a displacement of any unconscious bias as well as an increased interest in considering our recommendations.

Positioning

When you have a clearer understanding of why a board is seeking certain qualities, position a qualified woman by telling a story that illustrates the value she brings to the table. Stories go beyond qualifications to connect the audience with character, context, and contribution. They can be far more memorable than a CV or bio, and can better map a woman’s experience to the needs of the business and the board. Furthermore, by engaging an influencer with a story, we focus on relevant experience rather than job title. This chips away at bias and makes the influencer more willing to consider the candidate. In providing the influencer with a personal story that can’t be found on a resume, we position a woman for success from the start. Unconscious bias is naturally eliminated or suppressed in the face of relevant stories of realized value.

Make it easy:

My final word of advice is this — don’t ask boards to create or participate in a process that they are not already familiar with. Between 94% and 99% of board seats are filled through a network, and this is especially true for small-cap public or the private companies. Networks do not follow a formal recruiting process, and trying to introduce a new process is a superfluous barrier to entry. Instead, meet boards where they are — become a part of the trusted network, help the board’s articulate the value of the right candidate, and present women by telling stories that illustrate the value the board is looking for.