It’s hardly a secret of the business world that there are far too few women in corporate Boardrooms around the country. Fortunately, there are organizations that advocate for changes in this situation. Women in the Boardroom (Edna, Minnesota) is one of them. It holds seminars in major cities, such as Washington, Dallas, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and others, for women who aspire to Board service.
Expressing an interest in becoming a corporate director does not land you a seat on the Home Depot Board overnight, however. There are dues to be paid and a good place to start is with a local charitable organization, say a homeless shelter, an animal rescue program or a community literacy project. Become a volunteer, do a good job, get noticed and when an opening on the organization’s Board of Directors occurs, make sure the Chairman or a member of the nominating committee knows you are interested in serving.
From a nonprofit Board, it is possible, through networking and demonstrated effectiveness, to be tapped for the Board of a privately held company and eventually, with a successful career and valuable Board contributions noted, you may get invited to join the Board of a public company. This is not a short or easy process.
I am often asked by women who express an interest in beginning a Board service process what the first thing is they should expect when they are invited to join a local nonprofit Board. “Opening your wallet”, I tell them. It’s logical; if you, as a Board member, do not contribute financially to the organization, how can you expect perfect strangers to give? How much? Each organization has its own guidelines or requirements, but a typical annual amount can be anywhere from $500 to $5,000.
“Opening your Rolodex” is the second expectation you should have. A nonprofit is chronically in need of money and volunteers; as a Board member you are expected to work your connections to bring in donors and “warm bodies”, a/k/a “volunteers”, to organize an event, to prepare a mailing, to keep the web site updated, to sweep the floors and wash the windows – for a myriad of tasks not handled by the organization’s paid staff.
You will, of course, be expected to show up for Board meetings (on time!), to help guide the organization’s mission, to support the executive (or, sometimes, to dismiss him or her and participate in the search for a replacement) and to contribute to the organization’s positive image in the community. The most important responsibility a nonprofit Board member has is guardianship of the public trust. This will be addressed next week.