Updated: Sep 3, 2019
In a recent interaction with a highly successful woman CEO who sits on the Boards of multiple large Public Companies, there were a couple of aspects that really stood out from that conversation:
The skills required to navigate successfully and be able to influence the agenda at a Board level differ vastly from the generic experience of being a part of a company leadership team. In a Board setting, you really are expected to come in only for a couple of days every quarter (and very rarely have interactions with other Board Members otherwise except virtually for critical decisions), immediately strike up a camaraderie with them and create an impact within a very short period of time!
With a whopping 80.8% of Board seats of the Russell 300 Public Companies being occupied by Men in the US, research by Stanford suggests that there is a tendency for Board vacancies caused by men exiting being replaced by men and women exiting by women - therefore the percentage representation of women on Boards has remained static over the last couple of years and not increased. Strangely the rationale for this - it's always been done this way!
There are only a few prominent women leaders that are currently over leveraged and sit on multiple Boards - and very often, due to lack of attractive incentives and compensation and prioritization of time commitments, to be on Boards - are not very motivated.
With the vast majority of Board Seats being occupied by Men, vacancies are usually filled depending on networks traditionally reserved for men thus automatically excluding women. The recent California rule (SB 826) has forced Boards to relook at current Board composition and fulfill the requirement to recruit women with the right skills - (forcing a review of existing board members and efforts around improvement in the overall skill set on the board)!
That brings us to the important question as to how do we build an inclusive culture in companies, remove unconscious bias right at the top (at the Board level) and get more stellar women executives to the talking table, armed and equipped with the right skills to succeed.
There can be no one size fits all approach that would work for each candidate - am a strong believer that there needs to be a personalized approach with curated content that serves individual needs and capabilities.
There are many programs currently being offered by Harvard, Stanford, Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business, Kellogg Northwestern and a few others but here are five pillars of focus that needs to be further validated through user research.
A Module on Board Critical Skills: that focuses on improving the communication quotient to be able to influence high impact and timely decision making and drive the agenda with a diverse set of stakeholders; leading through risk and managing yourself in high stake situations and your ability to understand geo-political implications on business
A module on how Boards work including regulatory and compliance framework: Really about exploring the legal and regulatory environments affecting boards; examining the roles and responsibilities of board members; Awareness of Liabilities (both at the Company level as well as Individual level); Understanding both formal and informal board dynamics; Recognizing the "gender" lens—how women are perceived in the boardroom; Working with and evaluating the CEO and effectiveness of Boards - learning and owning how your performance impacts critical business indicators - revenue, profits, return on equity etc.
A module on developing Business and Financial Acumen: This one would be about Business Acumen and understanding the ever changing Market/Technology landscape and overarching strategy and vision of the industry that you are in; Reading between the lines of financial statements; Thought leadership, evaluation and driving results for profits for all key stakeholders (shareholders / customers / employees); Strategic short term and long term planning
A module on building your Brand Quotient and Value Proposition: We women are often reticent about really showcasing what we are about (lest we be labelled as projecting ourselves, being aggressive and self-serving). This module would focus on developing your networking skills both within your organization and externally; Importance of establishing connections with elite search firms; Interacting with CEOs and Industry role models to benefit from their experience and perspectives; Creating a compelling board profile highlighting personal competencies; Honing a concise value proposition to use within your network and with other influencers; Practice delivering your value proposition to people in your network, search firm executives, your CEO, and directors
A module on the last mile selection on to Boards: Get a broad understanding on how the Board Selection Process works; understand how typically executive firms match candidates with opportunities; developing the skill to showcase your strengths to disrupt the established lines of succession; Understanding your wish list that best compliments your skills and abilities; and of course, your secret sauce to navigate the last mile selection process to become the winning candidate!
There are many more aspects, I am sure, that would make for a compelling Board Readiness Program and it would be great to get your views and inputs! Leave your comments...