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The Next Glass Ceiling To Break: Getting On A Board

The Next Glass Ceiling To Break: Getting On A Board

by Christine Condon

The reality of American corporate boards is that they lack diversity. Renowned forecaster and economist Kathleen Camilli said it's not news that only 16% of companies have women on their boards. But how can we increase this number? 

In her recent Jam Session, Kathleen sat down with the Ellevate Network to share tips about getting board ready.

Stand Up And Stand Out

Whatever field you’re in, advised Kathleen, you need to be the best at it. Throughout her career, Kathleen was always trying to distinguish herself.  As a graduate of Rutgers University, she didn’t have the usual ivy league connections that are common in her industry. She had to find other ways to stand out. She joined professional associations, volunteered for committees with her company and learned from her mistakes. She has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and was named top forecaster in 1999 by Business Week.

In 2004, a board seat opened up with MassBank Corp., a one-billion-dollar bank, whose CEO was a forecaster. “CEOs look for people who are like them, who can bring their skill set to the table and who can add value to the process of managing the company,” Kathleen said.

Kathleen joined her next board in 2012 and was the first female to serve on the board in company’s 70-year history.

To stand out, Kathleen suggests working with a board coach to build a board bio. A coach will help you pinpoint what’s unique in your resume and what your added value would be to a board.

Get A Skill And An Expertise

“Be the best at what you do. If you have a narrow expertise in your field, even better,” Kathleen said. Don’t be held back by not having held a CEO/CIO/CFO position. A legal background or having deep accounting knowledge is always desirable. Attend webinars of the big four accounting firms and get CPE credits. You need to be constantly learning. If you have a specific skill set that you think a company needs, you would be in demand for a board.

Be Collegial

Boards are collegial. On Wall Street, Kathleen worked in a competitive environment where you work hard to distinguish yourself. On a board, though, you must leave your ego at the door. She said, “You bring your expertise, you bring your skill set, you bring your wisdom to the board. But you don’t bring your ego. You’re bringing your expertise to that boardroom to help the CEO navigate and to do the best you can for the shareholders.”

Think Like A CEO

According to the BlueSteps Board Director Career Report, there are four things board directors are currently most interested in: shareholder interests, economic/external factors and conditions, regulatory compliance and finding executives of quality talent. Finance, technology and healthcare experience are in high demand.

Strategic thinking is the most important skill needed to be on a board. Kathleen advises that you show you have this experience in your board bio.

Kathleen recommends joining a nonprofit board to show problem-solving skills and hone your skills on the board. There are always challenges in a company, so join a committee, task force or project to solve a problem. Make sure you lead the committee and that you present to the board on what the committee has concluded. “Again, people who stand up, people who speak out, people who have something to lend to the discussion will be sought after,” Kathleen said.

Do The Right Thing

Some people get on boards because it’s the natural progression of their career. But Kathleen cautions that there’s an enormous amount of risk. You need director’s and liability insurance, and know that the decisions you make will be recorded in minutes. “Don’t get on a board unless you think that you have something very definitive to add to the process and that you’re willing to stick your neck out. Get on a board for the right reasons, not to say you’re on a board for the status,” Kathleen said.

Come to the board meeting prepared by reading the board book and reading everything in the news about that industry. Kathleen advises, “Come prepared to make really difficult decisions…[and] to enhance the value of the company.”

If you follow these career stepping stones—and if you have the passion for it—you’ll get on a board of directors and make a positive impact.