In recent years, businesses have begun to realize that gender diversity on boards makes a big difference. For example, one study of 6,000 boards found that gender-balanced boards are less likely to have financial irregularities because having different viewpoints and opinions leads to increased effectiveness.
Women Get On Board’s mandate is to connect, promote, and empower women to corporate boards. We do this through an engaged community of women and men in Canada committed to advancing gender diversity in the boardroom. However, as I wrote in my blog post called “Are You Board-Ready”, “getting yourself board-ready is a journey where you need to be realistic in your skills, experience and value you bring to a board. You also need to be mindful that it is a very competitive marketplace. There is an over-supply of qualified corporate directors for a limited supply of available corporate board seats.” That’s why I am sharing my advice in my 4-part blog series, How to Get Yourself on a Board.
My previous blog posts in this series covered how to “Master the Foundations” and “Position your Board Offer”. Today’s blog post is all about networking your way onto a board and it will provide you with practical and actionable insights to getting board interviews with organizations that are looking for your board skills/expertise. It will detail how to:
- Identify board opportunities
- Network your way on to a board
- Deliver a stand-out board resume and LinkedIn profile
1. Identify board opportunities
The first step in getting board interviews is to identify board opportunities. The key is knowing where to look. Here are some resources available for finding board opportunities:
1. Women Get On Board
Women Get On Board is a member-based company with the mandate to connect, promote, and empower women to corporate boards. Women Get On Board promotes bi-weekly board opportunities to its members, along with their board shortlist service and board referrals.
2. Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD)
ICD is a member-based, not-for-profit organization that trains and educates Canadian directors and boards and offers a governance certification program (ICD.D). ICD members are given access to board listings.
3. Executive search firms and board shortlist service providers
Some executive search firms have board recruitment practices and work with boards on their board recruitment processes. Get to know executive search firms that have board search mandates.
4. Public sector board postings
The public sector, which includes commissions, crown corporations, agencies, and tribunals across the country, has a Governor in Council appointment website that lists current board opportunities on their website. Here are links to public sector board opportunities:
- Government of Canada: The Government of Canada is currently seeking applications from diverse and talented Canadians from across the country who are interested in current opportunities.
- Province of Ontario: Details on the Public Appointment Secretariat and current opportunities.
- City of Toronto: Current opportunities with the City of Toronto.
5. Not-for-Profit board opportunities
LinkedIn is another destination for finding board opportunities. Search their listings for current board of directors opportunities.
2. Network your way on to a board
A critical and ongoing step in connecting to board interviews is leverage your contacts through networking. Networking is one of the most important steps in your board journey because you never know when one of the contacts you foster today will help you get connected with your best board fit tomorrow.
As I wrote in this blog post called “Network, Network, Network,” you can generate contacts in two major ways: online and at events. Whether online or in-person, it’s easier to secure a meeting with someone if you have a warm introduction from a mutual connection. The more networking you do, the easier it will be to get connected to more high-value contacts.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to invest in your social network. Use LinkedIn and Twitter to identify people you think can help you develop your skills and ask them for a video chat to discuss their careers and get advice. When asking for virtual meetings, make sure you are specific about why you want to meet. Also, be sure to engage with their social posts and articles through comments and “likes.” Another way to generate contacts online is to attend relevant webinars, virtual networking events, and to be active in your social media presence.
2. At events (in-person or virtual)
At in-person or virtual events, your goal should be to stand out from the crowd. One of the best ways to stand out is to ask relevant and well-researched questions. People love to engage about their expertise, plus you stand to learn something you didn’t know before. You can also reach out via email or LinkedIn to the speakers before or after an event.
Once you’ve built your network, you can make direct asks such as, “I’m looking for a corporate board to add value to.” Be specific in what you type of corporate board you are looking for. In my case, I would be interested in high growth companies that are either public or going public in the following sectors: technology, retail, consumer, and cannabis. Eventually, all your networking will pay off and you will begin building a strong referral base for board opportunities.
Network mapping your way onto a board
After identifying a board opportunity, you can increase your probability of getting board interviews by employing a technique I call network mapping. You can read more about network mapping in my blog called “Network Mapping Your Way onto a Board”. The key is to take a look at the existing members of a board you would like to serve on and identify if there is anyone in your network that can make an introduction. The more connections you have, the easier it will be for the board to determine if you are the right fit.
Mapping your network is easier if you understand who can help you connect to a board opportunity. Your network can be broken into the following groups:
- Decision Makers: These are individuals that will make the final decision on who will join their board e.g., board members, in particular the Chair of the Board, Chair of the Nominating Committee
- Connectors: These are individuals that will connect you to board members, CEOs, and executives of a company e.g., lawyers, accountants, other professional service firms, and thought leaders.
- Mentors: These are individuals that inspire others in achieving their best and find joy in encouraging them to make a difference. You can learn more about mentors in my blog, “The Power of Mentoring”.
- Sponsors: Executive Sponsors are people who are willing to put your name forward for board opportunities. They could be colleagues or people you have worked with in the past who believe in you. Learn more in my blog “The Power of Sponsoring”.
- Organizations: Think about the organizations you are affiliated with—your alma mater, not-for-profits, professional organizations/associations, and member-based organizations (like CPA Canada, CBA, GPC, HRPA, etc.)—and how you can leverage these organizations.
Use my tool below to network map your way onto a board:
(The boards you would like to serve on)
(Decision Makers, Connectors, Mentors, Sponsors, and Organizations)
3. Deliver a stand-out board resume, LinkedIn profile, and Letter of Interest.
Now that you’ve network mapped your way onto a board, it’s time to seal the deal and get board interviews by delivering a stand-out board resume, LinkedIn profile, and Letter of Interest.
In my last blog post in this series called “Position Your Board Offer”, I provided practical guidance on how to develop your board resume. I also mentioned that your board resume will be an ongoing and dynamic document—here’s where that comes in! In order to get board interviews, you will need to ensure your stand-out board resume and LinkedIn profile are up to date. Finally, you will need to develop a specific Letter of Interest.
Your Letter of Interest should focus specifically on the board you are applying for and should include:
- Why you are interested in the company
- What value will you bring to the board and how will you help the company
- Your relevant experience on boards
- If appropriate, touch on your relevant professional/executive experience
Landing a corporate board seat is very competitive and it is critical to have a stand-out board resume, a very clear letter of interest, and a great network.
With the tools provided in this blog post, you will have greater insights to getting board interviews.
Looking to learn more about how to get yourself on a board? Consider registering for the Women Get On Board Getting Board Ready (GBR) Program, delivered in collaboration with LHH Knightsbridge. The GBR Program is designed to empower women on their journey to land their first corporate board seat. The GBR program offers practical and actionable insights in a combination of micro-learning, virtually facilitated discussion by experts, practical homework, and hands-on support. Learn more: https://www.womengetonboard.ca/programs/