Advice from Female First-Time Board Directors

The following advice were collated by Diversity Action Committee and Bloomberg from 14 first-time women directors (i.e. directors who have not previously served on listed company boards) in June 2018.

What was most helpful in gaining your first board role?

  • Recommendations from people whom they have worked with (clients, bosses)
  • Relationship with board chairmen or directors

What sort of networking was most useful?

  • Express interest in serving on boards to board directors
  • Reach out to people influential in director selection (e.g search firms or trusted advisers such as lawyers, auditors, investment bankers)
  • Networking through common membership of professional organisations
  • Only 1 said that directorship on non-profit boards was useful

Which of your skills/experience does your board value the most?

  • Strategic thinking / Business acumen
  • Personal Standing
  • Financial Knowledge

Which skills would you encourage aspiring board directors to build?

  • Financial Literacy
  • Managing Human Capital
  • Business P&L Management
  • Building Executive Presence and Projecting Confidence

What advice would you give to those seeking their first board role ?

  • Know what you bring to the business / the board & assess the match between your skills and experience and the requirements of the board
  • Consider time commitment required
  • Build up personal brand and pitch (succinct biography, highlight experiences and unique skills relevant for boards)
  • Network broadly & express your interest in serving on a board to people who are influential in director selection
  • Get some board experience in professional organisations or non-profit boards
  • When an opportunity arises, do careful due diligence, particularly in relation to the other personalities on the board.
  • Be clear of the type of company or industry that interest you
  • Get board training

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Other Tips For Aspiring Board Directors

Adapted from Spencer Stuart’s article on ‘How to Get on a Board’.

  1. Do your homework
    • Think carefully about the industry sectors or business issues that are of greatest interest to you
    • Consider where there could be potential conflicts of interest
    • Compile list of companies that are the best fit for you. Organize the list into categories and prioritize the list.
    • For your top picks, identify the board members of each. You may find that you know some of them or have contacts who do.
  1. Be realistic – set your sights appropriately
    • Consider what companies are appropriate for you based on your experience and the needs of the board.
  1. Develop advocates
    • Express your interest to serve on boards to board directors as they often refer names of candidates to boards that contact them.
    • Reach out to people influential in director selection.
    • Attend director education events for existing directors to become more familiar with governance issues shaping the boardroom and to meet well-connected individuals who may recommend you at some point in the future to boards.
  1. Develop your pitch
    • Highlight unique experiences and skills that boards will find relevant, such as involvement in governance activities, leadership experience (including the size and type of businesses you have run) and any global track record you might have.
    • Highlight any current or previous experience serving on a board or interacting with a board of directors.
    • Highlight specific knowledge, eg digital, social media.
  1. Get some board experience
    • Consider serving on the board of a smaller company as a first step.
    • Consider directorships on non-profits, such as educational, healthcare organisations.
    • Excelling in smaller boards or non-profit boards increases the odds that you are top-of-mind when one of the co-directors hears of an opening on a public listed board.

Other Resources

  1. Guides on how to get on boards – by Get on Board Australia
  2. Top 5 Qualities Which Make A Good Non-Executive Director – by Sir Roger Carr, winner of the NED Awards Lifetime Achievement Award 2019