When a dear friend of mine left her high paying job last year at a top company (not Google, not Apple...the other one) to work exclusively as a non executive director on various boards, I was surprised and intrigued. Embarrassingly, I had the antiquated view that board seats are filled by someone (usually male) in the twilight of their career or post retirement. I didn't picture my friend who is mid-career to be able to slide into what I assumed was a cushy gig. And for those wondering, I've been assured it is most definitely not cushy, at least not in her case nor in the other ones I've studied over the last little while. Anyone who is mid career will inevitably spend a great deal of time thinking about what their next move is. The reality is, if you want to keep growing at your current company, positions for your qualifications become limited. The hours for those limited positions are also incredibly demanding especially for women with school aged children. Many women decide to start their own business or work part time, others switch to head hunting in their industry. A new trend has emerged where women in the work force are taking advantage of diversity starved boards who now require females and other visible minorities to be a part of the team.
I turn my attention to Clare - the co-founder of Fox and Park. She had been raving about her experience as a board member for Canadian Save the Children and The Canadian Green Building Council. Always one for doing due diligence, she starts our conversation with some sad but unsurprising statistics: "In the U.S., women currently hold only 19% of Board positions while in European countries such as France, Norway, and Sweden, where legislative or voluntary targets are in place, they hold more than 30% according to a recent McKinsey report". This is disappointing considering women make up over half the population. Clare goes on to say "There are plenty of articles out there which site claims of why having more gender diversity on a board leads to better outcomes but" she continues "to be perfectly honest, I don't see the relevance of that discussion and am tired of the debate as to why we need more gender diversity across the corporate world and on boards. Enough with constantly justifying the positive benefits of having women in positions of seniority across all areas of our society! Everyone knows the benefits; they've been proven over and over, now it's time to take action"
Clare started her board seat search by joining an organisation called Women Get On Board. A quick look at the website shows that it requires a paid membership. The cost is not prohibitive but I'm keen to learn more about the success rate of their members getting board positions. I speak with WGOB Founder and CEO Deborah Rosati. Rosati is, herself, a leading and serving corporate director and has been for the last twenty years. She says "it has been my social purpose to get more women on corporate boards, so I launched Women Get On Board in 2015 to connect and promote more women to corporate boards". I ask her what percentage of WGOB members have successfully landed board seats. "Over 40% of our members have been appointed to boards and of that number, 50% of these positions are paid" she says. Board opportunities range from paid positions at for-profit organizations, to public sector appointments to not-for-profit boards and committees. All have something to offer. Many women decide to start with a not for profit board position as they are keen to gain board experience. This of course has the added benefit of giving back to the community.
When I ask Clare if it is worth joining an organisation like WGOB she is quick to respond "Absolutely yes! When trying to recruit women onto boards, an often used excuse is that organisations or companies can’t find enough qualified women. Organisations like Women Get on Board help to combat that excuse by providing a roster of highly qualified female candidates." She adds "the WGOB course also provided me with the tool kit I needed to both apply for and interview well for a board position."
Another friend Sally, who I met here in London, took a different route and approached recruiters who work directly with boards to help them find qualified candidates. In a market like London which is so vast, a quick search on LinkedIn shows hundreds of non executive director board positions. Sally didn't join a members based organisation (of which there are a few here in London) but she doesn't see a downside to more networking and opportunities. She says "I personally preferred using a recruiter because I was short on time and I was adamant about getting a paid position but perhaps a two pronged approach would yield the most opportunities."
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