Building the Modern Boardroom January 30, 2019

Your Career Is Dynamic. (The Journey to the Boardroom Is, Too.)

By Coco Brown Founder and CEO

Have you ever had a goal that you wanted so badly that you couldn’t see anything other than the finish line? Then the moment you attain that goal you move on to the next?

We’ve chatted with potential Athena Alliance members who have their minds set on achieving a board seat. For these women, it seems as though it’s all or nothing. Of course, we’re the first to champion an ambition like a board match. Our board match program is a core value of what we deliver as an organization to members and companies alike. We coach, guide, and do everything in our means to see that more women are placed in independent board of director seats. We do this because we believe that diverse, modern boards are paramount to healthy, sustainable business practices.


The next phase of your career

The journey to the boardroom is what we call an executive woman’s “last mile.” It’s that last sprint (more like a marathon) to make it to the highest level of impact at an organization.

Achieving a board seat requires diligence, focus, strategy. Purpose and dedication. Board seats do not happen by accident or sheer luck; they happen because women work hard and enlist the help of supporters, coaches, and strategic influencers.

A board seat is a worthy goal. For many members, achieving a board seat is on their “career bucket list”—it’s the one thing they must achieve. It’s often the next phase of one’s career. It’s an opportunity for women to reinvent their contributions to the business world, moving from operator to advisor; to leverage decades of experience by sharing their hard-earned expertise. Many women desire what men have done all along: to retire and to shift gears to the boardroom, where they can amass substantial income well into retirement and enjoy flexibility and continued fulfillment.

Of course, men work hard too. Very hard. But the vast majority of men already exist in the right networks. Men already have the right connections. For them, a board journey is a much more organic experience. However, once women are in those same networks and once women have formed the right connections, both parties are well positioned to compete for open board roles.


The barriers for women leaders

Athena works with female investors who are on the path to making Partner. We work with female founder CEOs who are working to raise funds and constructing their boards in parallel. We guide rising executives, with their eyes set on a role within the C-suite. And of course, we coach both aspiring and current board directors as they seek new roles with outside organizations.

All these women face similar challenges in accomplishing their goals. The first is a network challenge. While these women may be well-networked, they may not be in the right networks—the networks with the connections capable of helping them reach their goals. Not only do women require extremely diverse networks, they also need to get their foot in the door to the networks run by men. This means getting in front of investors, CEOs, and other corporate leaders, allowing them to gain greater exposure.

Additionally, as women’s careers evolve and become increasingly rich with new experiences, their personal stories can become obscure and complex. Many women find it challenging to communicate their value proposition. Their personal brand stories become less about how they got to where they are today and what their current functional role is, and they become more about their overarching ability to serve as a steward for business success. This shift in how we communicate our value proposition requires awareness, confidence, and practice.

Another challenge as it relates to a board seat: there is no guarantee of success. The board process has an air of mystery and ambiguity about it, an aspect that makes it all the more satisfying when it does happen. Board seats become available at sporadic times, the interview and decision process can be very lengthy, and when they do become available, boards and CEOs often have a very specific idea in mind of who should fill the seat.

But here’s the positive news. This process—if you can loosely call it that, is undergoing a wave of modernization. Boards today, more than ever, are opening their doors to contemporary skill sets as they seek modern, relevant experience. Roles like the chief customer officer, chief digital officer, chief human resources officer, and chief marketing officer are at an all-time high demand.

For example, Athena recently matched Joy Chen, a renowned CMO with VibeChain; we matched Jocelyn Mangan, a product development and operations executive, with ChowNow; we supported Kathy Zwickert, former CHRO of Netsuite, to the board of the public company Avalara; we supported Diana McKenzie, CIO of Workday, to the board of Metlife. And, with laws being passed like California’s recent HB 826, there’s never been a better time to be a woman who is board-savvy, board confident, and board-ready.


You create your path.
We guide your way.

Like your career, the journey to a board seat can’t be plotted out in precise dotted lines. There’s bound to be twists and turns, starts and stops. In fact, rarely are there defined career paths in today’s world. People study an area of interest, explore a field, and they often pivot—several times over the years. The beauty of this maze is that no one is in charge of your career path but you: you choose your passion. You discover your strengths. You make the decisions.

But along the way, there’s value in the journey: the contacts made, the confidence gained, the power you feel when you can step onto a stage and deliver an articulate, well-crafted, and meaningful message. The high you feel when you can see that you’ve persuaded an audience, whether it be a board interview or a sea of faces at a large conference. The authority and credibility you gain when you’ve evolved your personal brand to be considered an expert in the media.

This—all of this—is part of the journey to the boardroom. And wins along the way deserve to be celebrated.


How do you define success?

What does it for you? Is it hitting a target or achieving the milestones and learnings along the way? (By the way, there is no wrong answer; this is for you to decide).

If you’ve made your goal to run a marathon, are you celebrating the fact that you’re developing new, active habits? Or perhaps you’re celebrating that you’re teaching your children that they should get off the couch and move. Or maybe you’re thrilled when you hit a new personal record for a mile, or find a new running partner—someone you never would have met if you hadn’t signed up for the training program. Or, for others, maybe it’s the education about running mechanics—your form, your gait, your arm movements—that drives value.

Whatever it is, it’s inarguable that you can’t reach a milestone like a marathon without many mini-victories along the journey. Worthwhile victories. Life-changing victories.


There is no “one-size-fits-all”

Some members achieve a board seat right off the bat, and others take a few years to become board-savvy and board-ready. This is partially on the members’ end to do their homework in working with journey advisors and becoming more self-aware, but frankly, it’s also part of the naturally slower pace of many boards. There is only so much action.

Athena Alliance has built a fine reputation for its impactful board matches and its strategic way of preparing executive women for that next level. But we are so much more than board seats. When you look beyond the board seat, you realize that Athena Alliance is a powerful executive development engine. We support some of the most progressive, intelligent, board-savvy women on the planet. We’ve also created a network of hundreds of women who are willing and ready to pick up the phone or answer an email to lift other women up

Working intimately with our journey advisors and looking inward as you take the first steps in this journey, you’ll find that Athena will change the way you approach both your personal and professional life. There’s no way around it; your participation changes how you function across all areas of your life for the better, allowing you to become more mindful, confident, and courageous in your every interaction.

Success in life doesn’t come with a starting point and an end goal. It’s a moving, evolving, dynamic spectrum. That’s what makes it worth it, that’s what makes it so profoundly personal —and so deeply satisfying when it all comes together for you. Whatever that may be—however you define your success in all of its dynamic pieces—we’ll meet you where you are while supporting you and coaching you to success.

Now, that’s something worth celebrating.