Why Women May Want To Consider Board Opportunities

why women should consider board positions

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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Where do I start if I want to be on a Board?

Women on BoardsWhether you’re a business owner, self-employed, or a professional woman, the day may come when you decide you’re ready to be on a board. There are many reasons to do so—for example, to give back to the community, support a cause you feel passionate about, or wanting to work strategically with peers to steer organisations into the future.

If being a member of a board is something you’re planning for, here are some good basic strategies in terms of getting started on your goal to achieve that board role.

Look Inward

Your very first step is to examine your personal motives for joining a board. Think about just why you want to join a board, what value you can add, and what kind of board you’re interested in. It shouldn’t be to make contacts that will grow your business. The ideal board position is one with an organisation that is aligned with your personal values and in which you can make a difference. It may also present you with mentoring opportunities or even provide you with a mentor to develop you as a Board Director.

Determine Your Value

If your mission is to improve society in some way, look into profit for purpose boards. With no board experience you are likely to find a role in the non-profit/for purpose environment, where there won’t be any compensation. You should also perform a personal inventory of the value you can bring to a board, your personal characteristics, skills, and professional experience to determine where and how you’ll be a good fit.

Educate Yourself

If you’ve never served on a board, you’re in that classic position so common to aspiring directors —the board wants people with experience, but if you can’t get a board role, how do you get experience? There are opportunities available to help you learn how to be an effective board member. Don’t overlook the value of presenting to a board of directors. And don’t hesitate to ask what the board is looking for in its members. Once you’ve armed yourself with this information, you can start talking to people in your current network about your interest in joining a board and what boards would be of interest. The Australian Institute of Company Directors have many courses to educate you in the roles and responsibilities for being a board director.

Target Your Audience

Very few boards have exactly the right mix of skills and experience they need. Make sure your CV and Board Bio identifies and highlights those areas where you can add value and fill their gaps on the board. Gerri Elliott, founder of Broadrooms.com, points out that you’re selling yourself, so think about being able to say “I can help in these specific ways, in this specific industry or this specific locality.”

In addition to other aspects of skills and experience, think about the unique insights you can bring to a board. For example, if a board is composed primarily of males, how could the female perspective add value to discussions and decision making? Be prepared to present the advantages from the board’s perspective—they need to know what’s in it for them to have you as a board member.

Consider the Possible Downside

If you remember the Enron scandal, you have some idea of what can happen when a board of directors doesn’t fulfil its responsibilities. It’s a good idea to have Professional Indemnity Insurance that covers your board service. The organisation must have Directors and Officers Liability insurance so ask to sight the policy to ensure currency as part of your due diligence process.

Being an effective board member takes work and constant educating of yourself in keeping up to date with economic, social and environmental matters. It means asking tough questions, having courageous conversations and making unpopular decisions when necessary. It may also take a considerable amount of time, so be sure you have the capacity.

Board service is certainly something many aspire to gain. It can help you in your career and give you opportunities you might not otherwise have. Behind Closed Doors offers mentoring and coaching, key insights, networking, and other resources that can help you get started in your board career and boosting your business or professional career.


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What Women Can Bring to a Board

What women bring to boardsMen and women are different. While that may seem self-evident, in the business world it affects perspective, attitude, behaviour and approach. This is particularly true in the way men and women function and approach their responsibilities as members of a board.

Yet women held only about 18% of board seats in 2015, according to the 2020 Women on Boards Gender Diversity Index of Fortune 1000 companies. Considering that women hold about half of all management positions and many are small business owners, that’s a pretty low figure. Among the broader ASX200, women now account for 25% of board positions.

The Qualities of an Efficient Director 

A board of directors has a big responsibility to the organisation, its shareholders, and the community. Sound business management helps ensure good fiscal performance. Ethical management is good for the people in the organisation, community and—in many cases—for the environment. According to Jeffery A. Sonnenfeld, Founder and President of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute, important qualities for a member of a board include individual accountability, the ability to see the big picture while still paying attention to details, ethical behaviour, consistent meeting attendance and being well-prepared for meetings. One key skill is the ability to challenge a prevailing viewpoint and push for honest, thorough discussion of contentious issues.

A study of Fortune 500 companies done by Catalyst, a trusted resource for knowledge on gender, leadership, and inclusive leadership, took a look at the financial performance of boards that had women members. It found that boards with the highest percentage of women directors outperformed those without women directors by 53% in return on equity. Return on sales was 42% higher on average in those companies with more women on the board and return on invested capital was also 66% higher. The research found the “magic number” of women directors—irrespective of the actual size of the board—was three. A 2012 Credit Suisse AG report confirmed these findings.

Why Diversity is Important

Diversity matters in business for a number of reasons. Among these are diversity of thought, stakeholder representation, competitive advantage, and availability of essential skills,.

A. Diversity of thought promotes better decision-making and ensures that a board considers all available issues and options before making a decision. Otherwise, an organisation may become over-extended, take on responsibilities it can’t handle, or allow management behaviour that is bad for the organisation and its culture, or even illegal.

B. Stakeholder representation should be just what it sounds like—the board should be representative of shareholders, employees, and customers as well as community members at large. Excluding or not actively soliciting membership of those individuals means the Board loses valuable input and perspective.

C. Competitive advantage is more likely in an organisation that can handle the pace of change and current economic realities. Board members must be well-informed, able to make strategic decisions and willing to make hard decisions.

D. The availability of essential skills increases when women are recruited for board positions. Senior women executives have industry knowledge, functional expertise and operational experience. Younger women also bring a different generational perspective. All are beneficial to the board and the organisation.

Unique Qualities That Women Can Bring to a Board

Researcher Jan Grant, author of Women as Managers, notes that women bring unique characteristics to their roles as board members. They display more cooperative behaviour and are willing to hear from other Directors in discussions, ensuring that all viewpoints are heard. They have a sense of mutual attachment, which translates into mutual development and productivity rather than a win-at-all-costs mentality. Women express power through nurturing as well as strength, promoting the advancement of the entire group. Women are also more comfortable expressing vulnerability, which allows them to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses more objectively. Women’s capacity for empathy can help change an organisational environment and culture.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, is the first woman to serve on Facebook’s board of directors. She is also on the boards of Women for Women International, the Center for Global Development, and V-Day. She is the author of Lean In, a book about the lack of women in government, business leadership and development, and feminism. Sandberg, who helped take Facebook from a position of “bleeding cash” to profitable within a three-year period, is a good example of how a smart, savvy woman can help improve the organisation when she sits on the board.

Networks and organisations such as Behind Closed Doors can help women who are aspiring for a board position by providing key insights, helpful tips, as well as useful networking, mentorship and sponsorship that will help them not only increase their chances of getting a Board position but also perform their duties outstandingly.

What is your organisation doing about promoting women into Executive roles to improve the pool of women available for Boards?


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