December 3rd, 2020

Athena Board Coach Britt Ide serves on the boards of NorthWestern Energy (NASDAQ:NWE) and is an advisory board member of privately-held 3 Degrees. In both capacities, Britt offers her unique perspectives on engineering and law in board-related matters. She is a known thought leader on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues in the boardroom, frequently lending her expertise to Athena members in Virtual Salons. And, as a board director coach, Britt helps women leaders chart their path to the boardroom, learn how to strategically leverage their networks, and create their go-to-market roadmaps.

Learn more about Britt’s own path to the boardroom, the emergence of women serving in the boardroom, and the impact she hopes to have on Athena members in our interview below.

What can Athena Alliance members expect working with you as a coach?

Members can expect a lot of listening, challenging, and questions to help them distill the value they offer to boards. As an example, I believe the value of my background in engineering is more about being strategically-focused and connecting (at times disparate) ideas. 

I want to give a fun and supportive experience to every Athena member I work with, and reassure them even though it can be a long and frustrating process for some to land a board seat. Patience is often a huge component in board searches. I’ve applied for many opportunities! You have to get comfortable with rejection and hearing “no”. Part of being resilient with the process is using rejection as an opportunity to distill your message and find where you add value.  The “rejections” can also lead to future board opportunities.

What should women look for in their ideal board seat, and how do you suggest she get started?

As a lawyer, I’m naturally inclined to answer every question with “it depends!” And in this case, it actually would depend on the person and what their career goals are. Where are they in their career? How much time do they have available?  What is their unique value for a board?

They may join a nonprofit board or industry association board first, or they might be in a rare position to go straight to a large public board. Or it might be better for them to look at smaller private boards or an advisory board. The options will slowly start to open themselves up. A large part of that depends on the size of their network, their particular skill sets, and the value they bring. 

In terms of where or how they get started…again, it depends! Board postings are a great place to start, especially for women starting out their journey. Just the process of applying for opportunities helps me a lot. It has helped me distill the value I can bring to each unique board.

For something more proactive, I suggest women truly take a long look in the mirror and understand what their dream board would be based on their skills and interests. Once you have that figured out, begin the process of targeting those companies and leveraging your network to get into that circle. 

How has the perception of women in the boardroom changed in recent years?

Compared to when I started board service, many more boards are striving to achieve diversity in the boardroom. In my first board role, I was the only woman on the board. But I worked with a great group of men who were very supportive, so I did not experience challenges. Today at NorthWestern Energy, four of our ten board members are women. It is obviously a very different environment to be in when you are not the only female on the board, and it is great for the four of us to share our experiences with each other.

That is where the importance of Athena Alliance really comes into play. They are giving women an outlet and a network to connect with and find prospective board opportunities, leading to more chances for women to get onto boards. I also love the Athena culture, one that is driven by women helping other women succeed. I’m so proud to be a part of this community.

What are your top tips on ESG for women who are entering the boardroom, or for boards generally?

Women entering the boardroom must understand the basics of ESG. It’s been a boardroom priority for years under different names, whether it was sustainability, diversity, or corporate social responsibility. But I do encourage future board members to understand what ESG means, what it means for the company, and what it means for their investors, and for their relationship with their investors. It’s also good to have an understanding of who your employees, community, NGO’s, stakeholders, supporters, and critics are. All of this is crucial to getting a full sense of ESG. 

Obviously a huge part of ESG is the G—governance. This puts an added emphasis on the work being done in the boardroom. How do you make sure you understand that your company has good governance? That includes diversity of thought and perspectives. We’re going through a difficult time with the coronavirus and with the economic challenges, but ESG continues to be important because it is thinking strategically for long-term planning and success.

Interested in receiving targeted one-on-one coaching with an Athena Alliance Executive Coach like Britt? Athena members can add-on coaching hours by logging into Athena and clicked Learning > Schedule Coaching. Joining Athena unlocks access to the learning, community, and connections you need to make the leap into the boardroom and C-suite. Learn more about our membership benefits here. Memberships start at just $850.



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