With a mission to transform corporate America, the global education and advocacy campaign known as 2020 Women on Boards (2020WOB) had something monumental to celebrate as 2019 came to a close. After 10 years, it had finally reached its goal of increasing the percentage of women on U.S. company boards to 20% or greater by the year 2020. 

The recent 2019 Gender Diversity Index (GDI) announced that women corporate directors now hold a record 20.4% board seats nationally for the first time.

We are proud to contribute to so much progress. As we push beyond our 20% goal and endorse a platform that embraces gender balance, we are confident that corporate leaders will continue to recognize the value that diverse boards bring to their companies and benefit from the talent and insights that women bring to the bottom line. — Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire (CEO) and Stephanie Sonnabend (Co-Founder and Chair) of 2020WOB.

To celebrate this historic progress, events were organized in 30 cities around the country and internationally to hold conversations about board diversity, attracting over 10,000 attendees. Propeller was thrilled to be involved in the local Portland event, because we believe that pursing diversity of all levels is the right thing to do and drives better outcomes.

It was impressive and inspiring to see more than 200 of Portland’s movers and shakers attend. This was a powerful group of mostly women, all committed to supporting each other and making room at the ‘table.’ — Amy Weeden, CEO, Propeller

But there is still more work to be done. The GDI also showed that 41% of companies listed on the Russell 3000 index still have one or zero women on their corporate boards. So how can we keep building public awareness and momentum, and continue to see women fill those board seats? Have you explored the idea of joining a nonprofit or corporate board? 

Our Propeller team of women who serve on nonprofit boards, shared their experiences and offered some words of advice for those considering joining a board or who are new to their role. 

WHY WE WANT TO SEE MORE WOMEN ON BOARDS

While we often hear about strategies for women to grow in their leadership positions at work, serving on a corporate board is a highly influential and powerful role that offers additional opportunities for developing skills and career advancement.

As the GDI showed, 311 companies still do not have any women board members, which greatly hinders the possibilities and opportunities for broader connection. Women bring a diverse mix of thought and personal strengths, and add a perspective that is absolutely necessary to balance a team, allowing for better representation of the overall community in which we serve.

It’s also crucial for women to see examples of other women in leadership roles and have the opportunity to work with them, because that in itself provides career development opportunities that may not otherwise exist.

WHAT YOU GAIN WHEN YOU SERVE

Not only does serving on a board open up an opportunity to use your skills and knowledge outside of your day-to-day work, you are able to make a greater connection to the community and help drive strategic planning efforts for another organization. For some, that feels like having a greater sense of purpose and personal fulfillment. You may  convey your point of view in an environment that may not be accustomed to it and develop your persuasive skills. Bringing your creativity and sharpening your leadership skills in another professional setting can also increase your confidence in your day job.

Serving on a board allows you to use your existing skills in a new way to help a company be successful, and in turn helps you develop new skills to grow as a leader.  Amy Weeden

It’s also an opportunity to cultivate relationships outside of work. Connecting with smart leaders from other industries and working with a dynamic team exposes you to various styles of leadership and mentorship.You’re driving towards a common interest or goal with a cross-section of professionals who are often in an entirely different field of work and place in life, with whom you most likely would not otherwise engage. Being exposed to a variety of viewpoints and expertise can help you gain perspective on your overall community. 

HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED

Board positions seem elusive sometimes and are often filled by word of mouth. We also know that “hiring” decisions are often based on the model of the person who filled the role previously. It would not be surprising if boards populated by men were more likely to recruit more men. You may have to actively pursue an opportunity and look into many options before you find one that suits you.

Be proactive and find the right fit

Before you even consider getting involved and investing your time, the first step is assessing your own motivations. Make sure it’s something you care about and that you’re joining for the right reasons. Don’t just do it for the title or line on your resume. If you’re not passionate about the organization, it’s going to be hard to motivate yourself to prioritize this work against all the other things going on in your life.   

One way to start is to notify your network that you want to be considered for board seats. Don’t wait to be invited. Raise your hand and put yourself out there, even if it seems uncomfortable or the immediate benefit is not obvious. Create your board resume and educate yourself on board governance. Ask your network about their experiences or any possible opportunities, and reach out to a few board members to ask how they got their position. Go to events held by organizations that interest you, meet new people, and state your interests. The rest happens pretty organically. Approach it in a passionate and interested way, and remember that an interview or exploratory conversation is meant to test fit for you as much as it is for them.

Women are often juggling many roles and feel a great responsibility to be successful in each role. If you commit to one board membership at a time, you avoid stretching yourself too thin. You also have to know your worth. You can generally assess an opportunity after a few organizational meetings. Look for a board role that utilizes your key skills, and aligns with both your professional goals and your values before signing on.

Make an impact by leaning in and building connections

Propeller’s women who serve on boards have helped with not only designing board governance structure, but also with growing membership and increasing member engagement. They have used their project management, strategic, and communication skills to tackle tough challenges and create new cross-industry partnership opportunities for their organizations. Some have become active in fundraising and promotion for nonprofits, including through branding and board member service strategy, hosted events, sponsorship overhaul and other strategic initiatives. Their enthusiasm helps to generate ideas and motivate others. They help their team focus, ask the tough questions to open up possibilities, and turn ideas into action while bringing fun and humility to the group. 

Don’t underestimate what you can contribute. Show up to the organization’s meetings to get your foot in the door, seek out opportunities to be more involved, and go outside your comfort zone to challenge your own limits. Lean in as much as you are able, don’t overcommit or risk meeting your own goals and deadlines, and offer to help in ways that allow you to bring your unique value to the table. Seize that opportunity to expand your own professional network. Build relationships with others on the board and also offer to make connections for them in the community.  

While 2020WOB achieved its goal, there is still much more work ahead. Women bring a much-needed perspective to the board room. They have a great deal to contribute and to gain. Don’t let a lack of prior board experience stop you from getting involved. It may be one of the most rewarding, inspiring and influential points in your professional journey that will help shape your career and pave the way for others.

Propeller formed Propel Her in 2017 as a community to foster female leadership and provide training in response to the unique challenges women face in the business world. 

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