"From the Boardroom" with Janet Wong
The reversal of Senate Bill (SB) 826 is disappointing because it has been impactful in shining a light on gender diversity and in bringing more women into the boardrooms of California-based companies. This progress may have occurred eventually, but certainly not as quickly as it has since 2018 when the bill was signed into law. Together, with the support of major companies in the Fortune 500 and S&P 500 (among others), improvement in board diversity over the last five years became steady, even if it wasn’t robust. That’s what was so encouraging about SB826 - it enforced through state law the need for gender diversity on public boards to ensure continued progress. With the law overturned, I worry that progress will slow, which is why it’s imperative that female executives continue to pursue and push for board seats while we await the results of the appeal.
My experience as an independent board director and strategic advisor over the past several years has taught me that the process of securing a board seat can take longer than you anticipate, especially to lock in your first board seat when you may have zero board experience to offer. And as a woman of Asian descent, that uphill battle was made more difficult for me by the fact that I faced the double whammy of gender and race. Despite the data showing that gender and racially diverse boards are good for business, and the fact that I had my fair share of mentors and champions helping me to market myself as a choice candidate, it took a while for me to break through and secure my first board seat. That’s why, when I’m asked for advice by other women aspiring to board directorship, I always recommend the following to prepare the strongest candidacy:
Grow & Nurture Your Network
No surprise here, but having a vast and deep professional network is key to finding board opportunities. You never know where potential leads will come from, so it’s important to not only build a strong network but to nurture it continuously–meaning, you can’t just meet people and file their name away into your digital rolodex. Find ways to keep in contact with people in your network, reach out to be helpful, offer introductions they may find of value, or send them a newsworthy article that may interest them. The networking relationships you build are meant to be reciprocal so that if you are bringing value to your connections, they will offer value back.
Strengthen Your Board Resume
Another important element of preparing yourself as a board member candidate is to review your own experience and find the weaknesses. Are you short on operating experience? Have you never held a P&L role? Have you had the opportunity to do rotational assignments or gain international experience in any capacity? Once you find the gaps, you can take steps to fill them. Your resume should be a collection of your professional superpowers, highlighting the perspective and knowledge you can bring into the boardroom. As part of this retrospective exercise, it’s also helpful to think about what your board bio would look like and prepare your 60-second elevator pitch. Having compelling answers to what you would bring to the boardroom and why you want to serve is also important.
Leverage Social Media to Stand Apart
Similar to a traditional resume, think about your social media platforms as additional avenues to showcase your knowledge and value to the outside world. Whether it’s posting authored pieces on LinkedIn or weighing in with valuable opinions on relevant, of-the-minute news on Twitter, using social media to distinguish yourself from peers in the same field is important. And think about it from a corporate board’s collective perspective–what is it they want to see from potential new board members? Backing into the type of content they’re interested in with unique insights or points of view is a great way to keep yourself top of mind as a board candidate frontrunner.
The good news is that despite the overturning of SB826, many companies have taken steps toward diversifying not just their boards, but their staff and C-suite as well. And with more women at the top, it is more likely that other deserving women will follow in similar footsteps. We must be our own advocates and be proactive to land the roles we are worthy of, and to pave the path ahead for those to come.