Board Savvy March 9, 2016

Exercise Your Social Impact Option; Pursue Board Service

By The Athena Alliance

The statistics for women serving on public and private boards of directors (BoDs) in the U.S. are depressing by most any measure. I believe that if we care about the world we are creating for future generations, this ratio needs to change. With the degree of social change being driven by technology today, we need a more diverse set of leaders influencing the strategic direction of both public and private boards.

Why don’t we have more women on BoDs today? Press headlines tout great intent to drive change, but progress is slow. The most common excuse is an inadequate pipeline of qualified women. My observation is different. I believe we have more than enough women who have the potential to fill the pipeline. From my viewpoint, the root cause of the issue is that women have not historically had the incentive to put themselves forward for BoD positions and hence haven’t finished rounding out their profiles to do so. Additionally, they do not have the critical connections to the board opportunities themselves.

Are you ready to pursue getting on a BoD? Unfortunately, if you are similar to many of my qualified friends, your answer might be “No.” Why? In my experience, the answer ranges from “I have not really thought about it” to “I am not sure I am qualified” or “My boss tells me I shouldn’t because it takes a lot of time and there is a lot of fiduciary risk.” Well, now is the time to think about it. I’ve heard all of these concerns and you have to get past this way of thinking and get started on your journey. You are more qualified than you think. And, while your boss or colleagues’ concerns about fiduciary and time commitment is legitimate, it is my experience that with the right education/process for BoD selection you can manage the risk and drive impact that is well worth the time commitment.

I’m hoping by now you’re thinking, “Yes! How do I get started? How can you help me?” The role of the BoD is to provide strategic guidance for an organization’s executive team and ensure that they are looking out for the best interest of the common shareholders. Today, the right strategic direction for companies and the regulatory/social implications are less clear than ever. Your experience and thoughtful approach to the debate are important.

Take as example companies who are fueling the “gig economy” (i.e., freelance workers who work for companies like Uber and Airbnb rather than pursuing fulltime jobs). What is the right way to address and protect (or not protect) these workers’ rights? What about the explosion on big data analytics? Where do we draw the lines around personal privacy when more everyday actions are recorded and analyzed to the extent that a retailer may figure out when your daughter is pregnant before you do? These are just two examples of social consideration among the many new issues that are coming up in areas such as bitcoin (a new form of money), drones, cyber-security, biotech, encryption and the like.

In addition to providing increased social consciousness at the BoD table, as a woman you also have the ability to help make companies more competitive and help other women take on leadership roles. Research has shown repeatedly that more diverse teams make better decisions and companies with diverse boards tend to outperform their peer set. Research also shows that role models are important to fueling the dreams, beliefs and motivations of others. In my experience, having women in leadership roles brings forward more action to bring women into the company at all levels and provides the organization with access to rich and diverse employee networks. In going after the BoD role, show how you can be that role model for others and strengthen the diversity agenda for the organization you’re working with.

There are great personal benefits associated pursuing BoD service. You will undoubtedly learn a lot and build a more diverse perspective by exploring different issues in the marketplace, which you can bring to your current and future roles. You will also have the opportunity to strengthen the impact of your current role based on your position of leadership and extended network. Finally, the BoD service you do is compensated with stock and/or monetary payment depending on the size and nature of the company.

Are you ready to jump in? I hope so. Joining a BoD is a great opportunity and there are lots of resources to help you round out your experience, mitigate the risks associated with BoD service, and help you get the right connections.

Join me in exercising your option to drive positive social impact. Start, accelerate, extend your board service journey today!