How Women Can Get on Corporate Boards

Date posted: May 22, 2013

By Jane Applegate

The corporate board is still very much a men’s club, according to Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire, author of The Board Game: How Smart Women Become Corporate Directors (Angel City Press, $25).

I recently talked to Betsy about her well-researched and interesting book, which features stories about 58 female directors—plus advice and strategies for how you can land a seat on a corporate board.

JA: What inspired you to write this book aimed specifically at women when there are other books out there on how to land a seat on a corporate board?

BBC: As the owner of a retained executive search firm, I hear this question more than any other from women: “How do I get on corporate boards?” So I wanted to inform women how to make strategic choices at all stages of their careers in order to position themselves to be considered–because waiting until one retires from work is not the time to look for board [seats].

Boards want directors who have active and robust networks of current business contacts—not directors who are already retired, unless they are former CEOs. Executive women are realizing that serving on boards is another way to earn money in their later careers, and women executives have developed valuable expertise to help companies of all sizes, public, private and pre-IPO.

applegate_report_headerGetting on one’s first board is the toughest hurdle for a woman—once she has served on one board, she becomes in a sense “pre-approved” to serve on others. So my book describes the landscape, the new rules of the game, and the stories of 58 current women directors who reveal how they made it to their first corporate boards.

JA: Do you think more companies today are open to having female directors?

BBC: It’s a business issue now—[once] Credit Suisse announced its research results last summer (August 2012). That six-year global study revealed that companies with women on their boards out-perform those that don’t have women. [Change is] also fueled by the research that Catalyst and other respected organizations have done for years showing shareholders and institutional investors are now pressuring corporate boards to perform well.

Having more women on boards is now seen as critical to better performance. So for the first time, I think companies with no women on their boards may become targeted by their investors who will see them as not enlightened and not forward-thinking—and ultimately an unwise investment choice.

JA: What prevents companies from having more female directors? Sexism? Lack of experience?

BCC: Lack of open seats is the primary limiting factor. As retirement age for every board member approaches, boards should be insisting that women candidates be required to succeed outgoing directors. And the lack of term limits is another key factor allowing aging board members to serve decade after decade—some as many as 40 years or more. Many serve beyond board retirement age of 72, up to age 75.

There’s a lack of succession planning on boards. These are all symptoms of inertia and doing things the traditional way when long-term corporate leaders (mostly men) named their friends to lucrative board positions. The pipeline is now bursting with women executives who have the essential experience to add value to corporate boards.

JA: Do you think the “old boys” network’ deliberately prevents boards from inviting more women to serve?

BBC: Yes, I think the “old boys” network prefers the comfortable status quo of having only men on boards. Men want to name their friends to corporate boards, because they know and trust them, and because they want their friends to benefit from the annual director compensation of cash and stock. However, many women in my book point out that once men actually experience having women on boards, they find out it’s not so bad. Women bring added value and perspective, and are willing to ask the uncomfortable questions when perhaps men don’t want to appear to challenge the CEO.

JA: What’s the best advice you have for a woman who wants to serve on a board?

BBC: Dedicate yourself to a career-long pursuit to get on to corporate boards in your mid-career (your 50s). With that goal in mind, make career choices along the way that will build your experience and perspective needed to guide companies wisely.

Throughout your career, become involved with nonprofit organizations where other board members serve on corporate boards, and impress those board members with your expertise. [You should also] become more visible—internally at the company where you work, externally on city, county and state appointments to commissions, and on university and hospital boards. Develop visibility through your trade associations and the trade media.

Guard your image and reputation judiciously. Make sure Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media only have your best photos and career achievements. Learn the dynamics of serving on a board—from committee structure to Robert’s Rules of Order and the covenants of serving on boards—because boards want new members who already understand board dynamics and don’t need on-the-job training. Attend corporate board training programs like Stanford, Kellogg, UCLA and USC and “OnBoard Bootcamps” with Susan Stautberg, founder of the global network, Women Corporate Directors.

To order The Board Game, call: 855.966.3694.
For more interviews and videos about successful women visit: http://www.fabulousfemalenetwork.com

UPDATE
Miss Speed Rack USA Winner Announced
By Jane Applegate

SpeedRack winner (3)A few weeks ago we told you about the contest for the fastest female bartender in America. After a boisterous night of drink-making at a nightclub packed with 250 fans, Eryn Reece, a bartender at New York’s Mayahuel and Death & Co. was named Miss Speed Rack USA 2013.

More than 200 bartenders competed for the title last week. Ten finalists and six wild card winners shook and stirred their way through complex cocktails at the Speed Rack National Finals held at Element Night Club in New York City.

The judging panel, featuring cocktail world luminaries Julie Reiner of Clover Club and Flatiron Lounge, “King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders of Pegu Club, and celebrity pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, rated each drink based on prep time and accuracy.

Miss Speed Rack USA receives an all-inclusive trip for two to France. While there, she will visit the Cointreau distillery and attend the Cointreau Bartender Academie. Reece also won a five-day scholarship to the BAR (Beverage Alcohol Resource) group’s training program.

To date, Speed Rack, which was created by produced by nationally acclaimed bartenders and industry ambassadors, Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix in conjunction with event coordination by Claire Bertin-Lang of CBLLC and videos by Le Jit Productions, has raised more than $150,000 for cancer charities.

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