Women hold just over 10 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies, according to Catalyst Inc. Chief executives gathered at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif. on Tuesday spoke to a room of women interested in joining a board and what that entails. The panel, moderated by the conference’s executive director Pattie Sellers, included Heather Fernandez, co-founder and CEO of Solv Health and a board member at Atlassian; Melody McCloskey, founder and CEO of StyleSeat; Kate Richard, founder and CEO of Warwick Energy Group and board member for Flotek Industries; and Jennifer Tejada, CEO of PagerDuty and member of the board at The Estée Lauder Companies.
Here are the panelists’ tips on preparing for and getting a board membership.
Network, network, network
The panelists all agreed that building a network of board members, CEOs, venture capitalists, and others is the fastest way to find yourself a board position. These are the people getting the calls to refer potential board members, Tejada said, so you want to be top of mind. She said if you reach out monthly to foster those connections, you’ll start getting interviews.
“When you approach these people, be incredibly surgical,” Richard adds. If you are extremely specific about your skill set and desired position, it will be easier for people in your network to refer you for any particular board, she said.
Ask for a preview
Fernandez said if you have something of substance to offer the board of a company, such as a presentation of research or a successful project, ask to attend a meeting. Seeing how the group functions and how a CEO runs the gathering will add to your understanding of boards generally and what kind of board you would like to be a part of.
Use the available resources
Panelists also shared resources for aspiring board members to use in order to network and sus out opportunities. These included Catalyst, the National Association of Corporate Directors, The Board List, and Him for Her.
Get in where you fit in
Knowing yourself and “your superpower,” as Fernandez puts it, is key in finding board work. The value that you bring to the table is unlike that of anyone else, she said, and trying to be something you’re not is a recipe for disaster. This is why, according to Tejada and McCloskey, it is important to make sure you fit the unique needs and culture of a company before you join its board. They said that as CEOs, they have seen how selective one must be when recruiting board members, and that filling a gap with specific characteristics and expertise is the best way to demonstrate value and ultimately get the job.