Do you need motivation to start or re-energize your board search? Do you feel like you don’t quite “fit the mold” for a board director? Do you struggle with imposter syndrome?
Athena Coach Britt Ide shared her insights in a recent Salon with Athena members on how to overcome frustration, self-doubt, and “rejection” in the board search process. (Athena members, view the full recording and transcript in the Library.)
Below, we share some of Britt’s tips to push yourself forward and find the best board fit for you. Read on to learn her tips and insights on maintaining motivation as you apply and network for board opportunities.
With greater visibility on boardroom diversity, Britt says now is a great time to begin your board search. A recent Nasdaq mandate requires listed companies to have at least one woman and one diverse board director—or explain why it’s not possible. Britt says this has completely flipped the recruiting conversation, leading to more clear and intentional conversations among boards and Nom/Gov committees.
“It’s huge. My board actually has a spreadsheet of candidates we’re looking at and all their categories,” she said. “Is this male or female? Is this a diverse candidate?”
Nasdaq lists over 3,000 public companies and lists over 180,000 private and public company board directors on their Boardvantage platform. In the US alone, 30,000 companies are looking for a board director at any given time. If you’re on the fence about the right time to pursue your board search, the opportunities for aspiring women directors of all backgrounds have never been more plentiful.
Your skills are valued in the boardroom. It used to be difficult for a non-CEO, non-CFO to break into the boardroom, but the makeup of modern boards is changing. Executives from all backgrounds—from CHROs to Chief Customer Officers to Chief Digital Officers—are joining the boardroom at record rates.
“Maybe you’re a lawyer… maybe you’re from the military, maybe you are a doctor. There are different ways to come to board opportunities,” Britt explained. “It used to be harder, but boards are now asking for more diverse perspectives.”
For generalists aspiring to board service, focus on areas like strategy, compliance, managing risk, managing people, and executive development—all important areas of expertise that are valued by every board.
“The three main roles of the board are strategy, compliance, and the CEO. Focus on what you have achieved in those areas,” Britt said. As a lawyer by training, Britt’s boardroom superpower is connecting seemingly disparate people and ideas. “I’m good at looking across things and bringing a lot of different areas together. Know your strengths and then go.”
We say it over and over: It takes time to land a board seat. For even the most qualified director, it can take up to 2 years to find the right board for you.
“For every person I’ve met who landed a board seat, that first seat was about time,” Britt said. “It’s about being patient, but it’s also about putting in the time. If you’re going to serve on a board, you need to put an equal amount of time into getting on a board.”
The first board seat is the hardest, as you hone in on your value proposition and what you’re looking for in a board seat. And the board search cycle is notoriously slow.
“Even if you have somebody contact you tomorrow about the perfect fit at a board you’re interested in, it can still take a year to finalize,” Britt said. “Public companies are especially slow.”
You’ll inevitably face rejection through the process. You’ll get feedback that you’re not qualified, that you’re from the wrong industry, that you’re not the right age, or simply not the right “fit”. But you have to dust yourself off and rise again for the next opportunity.
“It comes back to resilience,” Britt said. “Know your value, then work hard to find the boards where you’ll be valued.”
Joining a board is like pursuing an advanced degree: it requires a significant investment of your time, emotional energy, and even capital. As you begin your board journey, think of the process as being an investment in yourself—your own wellbeing, your own experience, and your own development.
“You are investing in yourself. You’re investing time, through Athena and other avenues,” Britt said.
Athena Salons provide an in-depth look at the process of becoming a board director and succeeding once you’re in the boardroom. Athena’s coaches help women craft their leadership stories and showcase their value through their board bio, resume, and LinkedIn profile. They also help members develop a networking strategy, understand their goals, and hone the stories that will highlight them as a compelling board candidate.
“Catch yourself if you hear yourself say ‘my board bio isn’t good enough,” Britt recommended. “Work with all the resources at Athena to get it as good as you can. Have people look at it and continue to improve it—but don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s never going to be perfect. Just keep iterating.”
Particularly for people entering the boardroom from a non-traditional background or as a generalist, make your thought leadership part of your board search strategy.
“A board member is going to see you speaking in the right circuit, and that expertise is going to make the difference in the model they’re trying to bank on,” Britt said. “You’re going to catch them early and be part of their success story… and that’s going to also help propel you to other boards.”
Get the word out to your network that you’re seeking a board opportunity. If you have active board directors in your network (particularly if they are women or people of color), be sure to let them know you’re available for board opportunities.
“You want them to know you and have your bio so that when they [are turning down an opportunity], they can say, ‘No, I can’t do that. But here’s somebody you should talk to,’” Britt said. “That has been extraordinarily helpful for me, and I highly recommend that.”
Don’t miss an opportunity to follow up and continue the conversation with someone. After attending a networking event or conference, make sure you connect with any relevant connections on LinkedIn and send them a follow-up note.
“LinkedIn can be your CRM because it tracks your messages. So you may go back in two years and you’re like, ‘How did I meet that person?’ Oh yeah, here’s my message saying, ‘I liked meeting you at the NACD summit last year,’” Britt said.
Athena has supported thousands of women as they joined the boardroom, rose in the executive ranks, and reached their biggest career goals. Join Athena today to unlock access to the learning, coaching, and support you need to accelerate your journey to the boardroom.
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