There are many more doors open to professional women in the business world today than ever before. However, the door to the boardroom has still not opened wide. Women currently make up only 30% of ASX 200 board positions, according to the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
To some extent, this is because there are still not a lot of senior executives who are female. On the other hand, it may be partly because women are not on people’s radars ie Chairs and Board Directors don’t know you exist or are actively seeking Board roles. Here’s why you may want to consider board opportunities.
The Impact of Women on Boards
Women make up about half of the global population. If they are not represented well at the board level, their issues, concerns, advocacies, and requests may not be addressed or considered. It was women in board positions who fought for parental benefits such as on-site or subsidised child care, parental leave, flexible work practices and breast-pumping policies.
Organisations with high numbers of female directors also perform better regarding return on equity, return on sales, and return on invested capital than those companies with fewer or no female directors. This is despite the fact studies show that small-holding firms often cut back on investments in a company in the first year after women join the board.
Tech companies, in particular, are under significant pressure to diversify their boards—specifically by adding women, according to a recent article in the New York Times. The boards of huge companies like Facebook and Google are usually male-dominated. With the increasing evidence that boards with limited diversity are more susceptible to group-think and performance issues, that’s beginning to change. Boards have begun to court women like Stacy Brown-Philpot, the Chief Executive of online freelance marketplace TaskRabbit, Selina Tobaccowala, who runs the fitness app Gixo, and Clara Shih, the Chief Executive of digital marketing platform Hearsay Systems.
What a Board Position Can Bring You
Board service will boost your professional development and provide you with opportunities to gain more experience in mentorship and leadership or hone specific skills such as public speaking and even diplomacy. This enables you to more effectively guide and mentor other people as well, helping develop them into better contributing members for the organisation or for society in general.
As previously mentioned, a board position offers a great opportunity to make a positive change not just within an organisation but within society as well. And since you’ll also be working with other talented and skilled people with experience in the business and at professional levels (some of them with much more board experience than you), you’ll potentially have the support you need to attain your board objectives and be successful with your advocacies. However, for this to be possible, make sure you join a board within an organisation with values aligned with yours. For example, if you’re advocating for a healthier lifestyle, joining a fast-food company’s board might not be a good idea.
During the course of your board service, you will be exposed to other disciplines or fields you might not otherwise encounter in a regular work setting such as financial reporting, market analysis, or strategic planning. With greater experience you will grow into a well-rounded business or career woman.
Having a board position can be a rewarding way of giving back to the community—particularly if you serve on profit-for-purpose board—and can also provide you with an opportunity to help mentor other professional women. This is particularly true with local profit for purpose boards in a smaller community. The other advantage of joining a local board, if it’s your first time, is that many of the larger companies are looking for people who already have extensive board experience. Gain experience at the local level and then move up to the larger organisations that will help you make a greater difference.
In certain cases, board service also means extending your networks and additional income. While this is true, one shouldn’t join a board with the primary intention of acquiring profits or growing their own business financially. It is best to view and address board issues objectively and without a hidden agenda in mind. Board decisions tainted with personal interest are not the best ones and can have far-reaching negative effects for the organisation in the long run
Prepare Yourself for Board Service
Once you’ve decided that board service is part of the path you want to take, spend some time educating yourself first about the companies you’re considering, the duties of a board member, and the potential risks. Boards make their selections on the basis of capability, trust and character. If you want to join a board, you need to market yourself. Enrolling in relevant courses such as those offered by the Australian Institute of Company Directors will educate you on what will be needed from you in the boardroom and the lessons you need to succeed within it.
What are your special competencies? You must also be able to judge others well. Remember, the board has oversight of the CEO. Successful board members raise tough questions, collaborate, and are trustworthy. Finally, a board member needs emotional intelligence—specifically self-knowledge, empathy, and humility.
Board service does mean work and added responsibility; doing it right takes time and considerable effort. But if you’re successful, you will reap many rewards that will help not just you but the community as well. If you’re considering joining a board, Behind Closed Doors has the tools and resources such as networking. coaching and mentorship that will prepare you and alert you to opportunities.
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