Women on boards: How to get there with a little bit of confidence

Understand the hiring process

Mohr surveyed more than 1,000 men and women and discovered that it’s the recruitment process that women lack confidence in – not their own ability to do a job. They tend to assume – significantly more than men do – that if they don’t tick all the boxes, they won’t be considered for a role. Women, she concluded, “don’t need to try and find that elusive quality, ‘confidence,’ they just need better information about how hiring processes really work.”

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Ruth Sacks addressed this during Westminster Business School’s Women for the Board Programme. “When I was designing the course,” she said, “I asked female directors what they wished they’d known before taking up a board role. Understanding the application process, what recruiters look for, how to put together a board-ready CV and how to play to their strengths in a board interview were high on the list.”

Prepare and apply

In a recent survey, 85 per cent of respondents said they felt getting more women onto boards was still a top priority. And, while just over three quarters selected “Ensuring women who aspire to board roles have a mentor/sponsor” as the most, or second-most effective option for improving the representation of women on boards, almost half reckoned women should simply apply for more board roles. As one respondent commented “We cannot get women on boards if they do not apply”.

Clare Duffy applied for, and was appointed to, a board role after completing Women for the Board. “The importance of building your contacts is really brought out in the Programme,” she said. “As is the need to get yourself into position so that when opportunities come up, you’re ready to take them.”

Network and ensure your CV is board-focused

That’s partly about networking. Sue Baldwin – another Women for the Board alumna appointed to her first directorship shortly after completing the programme – is of the belief that mentioning her participation helped secure her role. “I had lunch with the non-executive chairman of the board I’ve now joined, and mentioned what I was doing,” she said. “He later approached me and asked if I might be interested in a board role – it turned out the company had decided they needed another director with a background in insurance.”

Preparing for a directorship also means having a board-oriented CV ready to go. This is different from the kind of CV used in applying for a job. “You need to be aware of what recruiters and the other board members will be looking for,” said Sacks. “So your CV has to focus very clearly on the requirements of the role, with evidence of your experience, transferable skills and willingness to learn and develop.”

So, for instance, a CV for a non-executive board role isn’t about the jobs you’ve done. “It’s about how you can contribute to an organisation at a strategic level,” Sacks Explained. “And about having the good of the organisation at the centre of all your communication and decisions, about you working in a team, not what you do on your own. You need to be able to connect with the other board members and make them feel they want to work with you.”

Where to prepare for a board role

If you’re a woman thinking of applying for a board role, consider a programme like Westminster Business School’s Women for the Board. Women on Boards run workshops for aspiring non-executive directors and the 30% Club offers scholarships to various business school programmes. The Institute of Directors also offers a range of courses, including a one-day role of the Non-Executive Director programme And it might also be worthwhile considering a board apprenticeship. 

Good luck!

Also, in 2010, Sheryl Sandberg delivered a speech that offered three pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite. We took a look at one of her tips.

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