How Can I Get Into The Boardroom?
In short, there are two main ways to get onto a board. The first path is to rise up within the ranks of an organisation, eventually getting promoted to a board position where your duty is to act in the best interests of shareholders and business owners. As a board member your job is to help the business fulfill its fundamental objectives, whether that’s increasing revenue, or delivering a high quality service.
The other path is perhaps one that is more achievable to most of us. You don’t necessarily have to be a director to be involved with a board. You can sometimes take on an advisory position for a business, or even a not for profit, charity or organisation. This can sometimes be a paid role, especially in the commercial sector, although these opportunities tend to be limited to particular skillset, such as finance or marketing.. You will still be acting like a director, in that you are using your skills and experience to help that organisation fulfill its objectives.
It‘s not for everyone, as there are serious responsibilities, but here are some reasons to consider it:
- The more women in positions of power, the more we shape the future
- To act as a great role model
- To stretch your comfort zone
- Career enhancement (it looks great on a CV and can open doors)
- Sharing your wisdom and experience
- It’s a good way of getting back into work if you have been on maternity leave
- Stay in touch and feel valued if you are retiring or winding down
- Learn about a new area of industry , sport or the arts
- Because you believe in the organisation or cause and want to do some good
- It offers the chance for networking and building connections in new ways
If you want to get noticed as board material you need to show responsibility, leadership, and an ability to influence…whatever this means for your industry.
One way to dip your toe in the water might be to take on a school governorship, PTA or local committee post or joining Toastmasters. Get comfortable with speaking in meetings, crafting compelling arguments and improving presentation skills.
I became chair of a local networking organisation, which gave me ample opportunities to get used to speaking up and managing groups, develop leadership skills and the ability to steer and orchestrate round table discussion. From this I gained the confidence to step into an advisory board role.
Taking on responsibility within a charity is a possible next step. However, examine the contractual conditions and responsibility involved as a Trustee position will include some liability, i.e. you may become personally liable for that charity’s finances and actions.
I have been asked to join advisory boards on many occasions as a result of networking. Admittedly, as a tax consultant I have expert knowledge, but being in the right place at the right time, and connecting with the right people has played its part.
If you’re really serious about this, you can invest in professional directorship qualifications (or persuade your organisation to pay). The Institute of Directors run training:
Also, tell people what you’re doing and where you’d like it to take you. Find a mentor who is in a board position and ask if they’d mentor you…or at least ask if you can take them out to lunch and pick their brains!
Don’t just take the first offer that comes along. I was recently offered an advisory position with an organisation. It was flattering but I didn’t feel any passion or even affinity for the subject, so turned them down. Aim to work with an organisation or cause that gets you personally fired up, inspired or has a strategic value (it’s an area you might want to move into in the future).
On the board
Your role is most likely to be advisory, i.e. to present the facts or options and then step back to let the key decision makers do just that, make their decision. Remember your opinion may be subjective. Allow for open minded discussion and avoid any personal bias.
A head for numbers is usually most welcome. You will be engaging in high level decision making, and it helps to know your numbers. Just think of the ‘Dragons’ on Dragon’s Den berating a would be entrepreneur for not knowing the difference between gross and net profit, or why turnover means little in reality. You cannot afford to make mistakes like this.
Research the business or organisation you will be working with, and be prepared to ask questions. Everything has a cost implication and on the board, these are the criteria you will be working with. Getting comfortable with language like “return on investment” and “overheads” is key. Leave your emotion at the door, and think logically. Come with questions and suggestions rather than opinions.
Finally, do use your position to mentor the next generation of female board members!
Faye is no ordinary tax accountant and business advisor. Her background in a creative environment and seven years as a freelancer in the fitness industry, followed by running her own accountancy practice since 2008 means that she has a real life understanding of the pressures of running and growing a business. As well as her work in tax consultancy and business planning, Faye sits on the advisory boards of a number of organisations.