Aspiring women leaders gathered in New York City at Nasdaq’s MarketSite last week to hear firsthand how successful women earned a seat at the table in some of America’s most high profile public company boardrooms. They also heard how they too can join the pipeline of board-ready women and ascend to the next rung on the corporate ladder.
Nasdaq teamed up with ICR to host this event, which featured a dynamic slate of experienced women – all of whom are current or former C-suite executives. Between them, these accomplished women currently serve on more than a dozen boards:
- Betsy Atkins, Board member of Cognizant (Nasdaq: CTSH), Wynn Resorts (Nasdaq: WYNN), SL Green Realty, Schneider Electric and Volvo
- Coco Brown, Founder & CEO of The Athena Alliance
- Zoe Cruz, Board member of Ripple and Man Group Plc and the former Co-President of Morgan Stanley
- Rachel Glaser, Board member of The New York Times Company and CFO of Etsy (Nasdaq: ETSY)
- Claudia Fan Munce, Board member of NEA, Best Buy, Bank of the West/BNP Parabis Group, and CoreLogic
- Diane Neal, Board member of Fossil Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: FOSL) and former CEO of Sur La Table and Bath & Body Works
Following are six key takeaways from our distinguished guests:
1) “Pay it forward.” Betsy Atkins
To gain access to people in influential networks, you have to invest time and do something for them to prove you are valuable. Go out of your way to do a favor, make a meaningful introduction, or share useful information. For example, what can you do for some company in a private equity firm’s portfolio? What door can you open? What presentation can one of those start-up companies make to your company that might result in buying their product or service?
You can’t withdraw money from the bank until you put money in the bank. You have to forward invest with people, too. Don’t ask for favors or introductions until you’ve proven you are worthy of making that withdrawal.
2) “Get to know the power players.” Coco Brown
In order to be in the right place at the right time to be discovered, women need to be part of the power networks. These are the networks of private equity firms, venture capitalists, CEOs and board members. Don’t overlook advisory roles for companies backed by private equity, because they offer a fluid proving ground for board service and access to private equity networks.
3) “Kiss a few frogs.” Claudia Fan Munce
Consider helping a young company, which is basically a micro-version of a large company dealing with similar issues. There are incubators and accelerators in universities all over the country; there are local entrepreneurial programs in your communities. These organizations need people to bring skills because the little businesses they are nurturing can’t afford to hire those skills.
Start engaging there and you will become known within what is actually a small network of investors and entrepreneurs. From there, you are in a better position to be tapped to advise larger start-up companies, privately funded companies and potentially a public board.
Hopefully your batting average is good. Then you will be elevated from startup advisor to advisor of a company that is now funded by a major institutional firm. You have to kiss a few frogs!
4) “Bring more than your gender to the table.” Diane Neal
Accept a board seat when you are respected for what you know, when you can identify how you will add value, and when you will grow in some way from the experience. The relationship won’t work if you join a board that wants you just because you are a woman.
5) “Take recruiter calls, even when you are happy with your job.” Rachel Glaser
When you are ready to seek a board seat, it’s important to reach out to the people who have mentored you and the board members of the companies you work for. Stay in touch, continue to be helpful to them, and make it known that you would like to be on a board. Plant those seeds with the people you like and know and trust.
Don’t overlook recruiters. At The New York Times, board seats are filled by search firms. Take all those recruiter calls, even if you have no intention of leaving your current job, because a meaningful conversation that keeps you on their radar could lead to a spot on a board slate later.
6) “Look abroad for opportunities to serve on boards.” Zoe Cruz
In the U.K., the government has established targets for FTSE 350 companies that, by the year 2020, 33% of their board and leadership positions at be held by females. Many British companies are looking to head hunters to find women candidates to help meet these targets. When you call your favorite recruiting firms, they will claim to be global, but most are very regional. Ask to be introduced to their European counterparts and then go meet with them. It’s well worth your while.
***If you were not able to attend the event in person, a video recording of the entire event is available here; a description of each segment along with a video link is provided below.
Changing the Face of Corporate Boardrooms
While more women are joining corporate boards than ever before, some say progress is too slow with only 20% of board seats among Fortune 1000 companies filled by women. In this fireside chat, Diane Neal discussed with CNBC’s Bertha Coombs the changing face of corporate boardrooms, reflecting on her experience as a female director to share insights into why gender diversity in board composition matters now more than ever. Watch a video of this fireside chat here>>
Building the Modern Boardroom
From the leaders at the largest investment firms and pension funds to the limited partners of venture firms, there is a growing call for a new form of corporate governance. There is a lot that is changing. In her presentation, Coco Brown shared more about this transformation and elaborated on where the opportunities lie for women in the process.Watch a video of Coco’s Presentation here>>
Advancing C-Suite Women to Board Service
The panel, moderated by Stacie Swanstrom, engaged four highly accomplished women who have made an impact in the boardrooms and the C-suites of many high profile organizations, including Etsy, Wynn Resorts, Cognizant and Morgan Stanley. The conversation focused on leadership lessons and perspectives gained during their careers and provided the audience with practical, actionable intelligence that they could use to prepare themselves for board service.Watch a video of the panel discussion here>>