by: Minda Harts, Founder, The Memo
What would it look like if the rooms we walked into or the tables we sat at were diverse? What about in terms of board membership? Imagine sitting in a boardroom that was representative of the communities you live in and the customers you serve. I believe that is exactly what California is striving for in trying to pass a bill that would require publicly held companies to have women on their boards. Which is great news for women of color: we are not equally represented on corporate boards, so there is lots of opportunity and board seats to secure.
So what does it take to join and be on a board? Below are a few tips, some of which I shared at one of our monthly #memocareerchats on Slack. There are skills you can gain and ways to level up before you get to your future board seat. Many of these tips are for non-profit board membership, which can be a good starting point before you move to a corporate board.
I want us to be ready to execute when we do sit down--that is what you call Securing Your Seat!
How I Got Involved in Board Membership: “I knew at some point in my career I would want to sit on a major board so I had to start somewhere. My first experience was [with] a non-profit arts organization. With my [previous] fundraising experience, I could lend a hand and provide guidance. It’s nice when you have a skillset that a board needs. So this was a win win for both parties.”
How To Find Boards That Are Looking for Members: Sometimes a non-profit board is a good place to start, and resources like Guidestar.org and Idealist.org can get you started on the search. Additionally, consider organizations that you are interested in, and ask how you might be able to help. Volunteering at an organization may be a good way to get your feet wet, and allow others in the organization to get acquainted with you and your work. Being tapped to be on a board sometimes comes down to your network. If people know you as a reliable and accomplished professional, they are more likely to think of you when an opportunity arises.
What Boards Are Looking For: This answer depends on the organization, but some skills that can help are: strategic thinking, problem solving, understanding specific industry trends and techniques, and an ability to read and understand financial documents. I also found the New York Junior League to have a great resource for picking up some of those skills.
Considerations Before Accepting a Seat: “The requirements and expectations. I said yes to one board and it was like working a full-time job. Understand what you are saying yes to and what they expect from you.” Ask if the organization has a board member description. Make sure you understand things like: the time requirements, how often the board meets, what fundraising expectations there are, who else is on the board, conflicts of interest that might arise, the population served, and the direction the company may be headed. Do your homework ahead of time, as board membership can be a huge commitment, and doing well on one board can help you secure your seat on others.
And, shout out to the black and brown women who came before us, and ran so we could walk in the room! Women like Delores D. Wharton, who, in the 1970s, was one of the first black women on a corporate board.
As Assata Shakur once said, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
What else would you add to the list of tips? Let me know in the comments.