This is the third in a series of articles about the Carolina Women in Business annual conference. The other articles in the series focus on leaders making an impact on the global stage, work-life integration, and workplace wellness.
Women serving in the corporate boardrooms result in more diverse discussions, richer dialogue and better business decisions. The financial benefits for companies are clear, but women still only hold 14 percent of the board seats at S&P 1500 companies. At the 2013 Carolina Women in Business Conference, the “Experiences from the Boardroom” panel provided advice from women who earned a seat in the boardroom and succeeded there.
Panelists included Edwina D. Woodbury (BSBA '73), who serves as a director at RadioShack Corp.; Mary Delk, director, Deloitte Consulting; Jan Davis (MBA '79), an executive committee member for Triangle Angel Partners; Amy Tiemann, founding board member, Women Advance Center; and Jean Morton Elia, associate dean for strategy and administration, UNC Kenan-Flagler.
Network, network, network.
For board appointments, who a candidate knows is often just as important as what they know, said Davis. While this emphasis on personal connections might seem unfair, it’s actually necessary to form a functioning board. Someone can have great skills and expertise on paper, but the dynamic in the boardroom is critical. You have to be able to push and challenge but also be willing to make compromises.
As a result, it’s crucial to give people the opportunity to witness you displaying these skills firsthand. Put yourself out there and volunteer to lead projects at work. Accept a leadership role in non-profit organization that you’re passionate to help develop the skills and connections you need to be considered for a for-profit board. Industry associations can be another great way to jumpstart your networking efforts.
Find common ground.
Having women in the boardroom helps create a diversity of experience and perspectives that has been proven in improve the quality of decision-making. While this diversity should be valued and respected, it’s still important to find common ground. For Woodbury, this was as simple as sharing her love of college basketball with a room full of male colleagues. Overcoming social barriers between male and female board members allows the group to tackle business discussions more comfortably and effectively.
Value your own talents and experiences.
“Realize that you bring valuable expertise to the table, and don’t sell yourself short,” advised Tiemann. While men tend to take credit for their accomplishments and have no problem bragging, women tend to down play their achievements by framing them as part of a team success. Speaking up about all that you have to offer will help get you into the boardroom and make you an effective member once you’re there.
Gain respect with data and analysis.
One of the most effective ways to gain respect when walking into a boardroom, it is to come prepared to back up your ideas with thorough data and analysis, said Delk. Women in the boardroom often find themselves facing a circle of “good ol’ boys” that is used to making decisions based on tradition and gut responses. Bringing fresh ideas and convincing reasons why change is necessary can help make you a valuable, well-regarded member of the board from day one.
Encourage and support fellow women.
Queen bees, high-power women who are more critical of female than male subordinates, have been a popular topic in the media lately. But it’s important to remember that the more women that serve in leadership positions, the more “normal” and expected gender equality in the workplace becomes. As you move up the corporate ladder, don’t forget to encourage other women. Serve as a mentor or role model for those coming up behind you.