Top 5 tips for aspiring female board members
The number of women on FTSE 100 boards remains persistently low at 12.5%. A recent government-commissioned report by Lord Davies recommended companies do more to try to promote women to senior positions and called on the headhunting industry to cast its net wider in the search for female talent.
However, there are some straight-forward steps ambitious women should take if they want to climb the corporate career ladder. Odgers Berndtson, an executive search firm, pulls together five tips.
1. Plan and excel
What have you achieved? How have you added value? These are the sorts of questions all board members face.
Boards want individuals who have a demonstrable track record of success. A career plan, focused on developing the skills and experience required for board consideration can significantly enhance your prospects.
2. Broaden your skills
Finance and business administration are the languages of the board. Chairmen typically look for strong management experience – leading teams, controlling budgets and spearheading projects will help women establish credibility.
If your skills or expertise lie outside these areas, seeking continuing professional development both within and, where possible, outside the workplace to fill those gaps, is critical. Excellence in your day job may not be sufficient to propel you onto the board.
Equally, women must be mindful of emerging trends within their industry and the wider market. Those who understand outsourcing and internet enabled business models have been in demand in recent years. Perhaps those with knowledge of and expertise in social networking technologies or BRIC markets will be in great demand in future.
3. Build networks
Who you know can be as important as what you know. To be visible to boards, women should develop and broaden their networks. Board and leadership positions with not-for-profit organisations or charities are a good way of making new connections and can provide insight into boardroom etiquette and behaviour.
Often, it’s about being seen at the right places - attending forums, events and conferences will help get your name in the public domain. Building relationships with headhunters is also crucial – declaring your interest and what you are looking for will enhance your visibility.
4. Seek sponsors
Mentoring plays an important role in career advancement. Having someone who will advise you on areas for development and teach you the ropes of senior corporate life is a key advantage.
Mentoring alone however, will not immediately improve your chances. Recommendations play a critical role in the selection of board members. They provide valuable information on your personality and cultural fit – qualities that are not otherwise easily discernible at the interview stage. Seeking sponsorship opportunities with senior executives, who can champion your abilities, is an increasingly popular form of endorsement.
5. Understand the brief
Read the brief carefully and understand what the board is looking for. Instead of casting your net wide, narrow your search to select industries where your skills match. It is important to ask frank questions. Can you make a real contribution? Do you have the capacity for what they are demanding? Is the chair someone in whom you have confidence? Boards want individuals who feel strongly about the company and who can make an immediate contribution. The answers to these questions are a good indicator of your suitability and chances of success.