The phrase “women and corporate boards” has become synonymous with “slow progress.” It’s true that more women are being appointed to board seats than in the past, and also true that a growing number of organizations are starting to call for balanced leadership thinking around the table to better reflect the needs of the changing marketplace. Yet new data shared in The Wall Street Journal suggest yet another reason why capable women are still a rarity in the boardroom: few seats are available to women who might claim them because the turnover of current board members is so slow.
This revelation—that directors are clinging to their seats for over a decade on average—helps explain why landing one of the few open board seats has become more competitive and challenging than ever. This is certainly an issue for corporate boards and organizations to address in terms of what they can do to modify corporate culture and policies to create a better gender balance on their boards of directors—and I’ll speak to those issues in my next post. But even though there’s little movement in current board composition, the latest findings also are a clear sign that women who aspire to join a board must take the lead to step up their executive skill sets, positioning themselves as advantageously as possible to increase their chances of landing these coveted seats.
Here are some of our top strategies at SHAMBAUGH to prepare women for becoming board members:
- Cultivate influencing relationships. Power is what leads to possibility. In SHAMBAUGH’s leadership programs on power and influence, we define power as “the ability to effect change or the right others give you to influence them.” One of the best ways to instantly gain more power as well as influence is to cultivate relationships with people who are already influencers in your organization or industry. While seeking mentorship is one possible approach, gaining a sponsorship opportunity with an influential member of the senior leadership team—or better yet, a current board member—has more potential to get you noticed as a leader and recognized as “board material.”
- Improve executive presence. Executive presence, or leadership persona, is that je ne sais quoi that you feel instantly when an effective leader walks into the room. While you can develop many technical qualities related to leadership such as communication skills and strategic thinking, a strong executive presence allows you to connect authentically to how other people think and feel in order to motivate and inspire them. SHAMBAUGH’s research on women executives revealed that candor, clarity, openness, and passion topped the list when it comes to developing your executive presence. Poise, self-confidence, sincerity, and warmth also made the list, so you can use these goalposts as a starting point to guide you.
- Hone your EI. Emotional intelligence (EI) is inextricably linked to executive presence. In fact, I often advise high potentials that honing their EI is the single-most important action they could take to boost their executive presence. To cultivate a stronger EI, examine what dynamic your presence creates in the room. Are you seen as an inspirer? A stabilizer? A visionary? If you aren’t sure that you’re projecting the leadership persona that you’d like to, then use your internal radar, or EI, to change that. Become aware of your mental narrative, and understand that how you see yourself affects how others view you. Once you understand how your interactions affect others from an EI perspective, you can take steps to make changes as needed to reflect your true leadership potential.
- Develop negotiating skills. In my book Make Room For Her, I debunked a common myth that often appeared as a bias in men’s perceptions of women: that women are poor negotiators. The fact is that our research (and outside research) has shown that women are well-suited to negotiation and may benefit from building on a tendency to:
- Do your homework: understand the goals/ concerns of the other party
- Read signals or unspoken words
- Be curious – use thoughtful questions and listen to learn
- Show empathy to expand the negotiation into a true conversation
Each of these strategies—alongside having the business case established and data lined up before the actual negotiations—often leads to the best outcome for a win-win scenario. By becoming an expert negotiator, you’ll showcase your ability to be a valuable board member as well.
If you have individuals, teams, or departments that could benefit from developing their abilities in the areas above to become truly “board ready,” SHAMBAUGH Leadership can help—contact me at email@example.com.
Rebecca Shambaugh is a leadership expert on building inclusive and high performance cultures. She speaks at major conferences and to executives on how to disrupt traditional mindsets and create an inspiring vision and roadmap for driving greater levels of innovation and performance through a unified voice for leadership. Rebecca is the Founder of Women in Leadership and Learning, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and blogger for the Huffington Post. She is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.
SHAMBAUGH’s Mission: We’re on a mission to develop high-performing and inclusive leaders who transform workplace cultures so everyone can thrive.
Find out more about us at: www.shambaughleadership.com