One of the goals on my personal development plan when I was in Momentum was to serve on a nonprofit board. I had no prior board experience, but with the encouragement of my co-mentoring group and a little networking I easily found my way. I realized within a few board meetings that I could have, and should have, pursued the board opportunity earlier. Nonprofits, schools, universities and small businesses can all benefit from a diverse board to advise, strategize, and get things done. The board members benefit too. My board service at Children’s of Alabama committee for the future, TechBirmingham, TechAlabama, UAB’s Collat School of Business Sales and Marketing, and UAB’s School of Engineering IEM board, has enriched my life in three ways:
- Expanded my network. Through board service I’ve gotten to know close to one hundred local professionals. I make a habit of connecting with them on LinkedIn. I can rely on this network as a sounding board for new ideas, make connections between people with similar business interests, and get feedback when I have a particular issue or question.
- Gained confidence. No matter how confident I think I am, I still can have that little voice inside that wonders if I really know what I think I know. Testing your ideas and strategy at the board level is very validating, because your fellow board members are smart, they are equally committed to the cause, and more objective than traditional co-workers.
- Made great friends. By volunteering for projects and committees I have gotten to know quite a few fellow board members on a personal level, and those friendships live on. My career and family do not leave a lot of time for forging new friendships, so uncovering these as a result of board service has been a real bonus.
One thing I have noticed is the lack of women on boards. I’ve also noticed that sometimes the women at the table do not volunteer their ideas as often as the men, particularly if there are a lot more men than women at the table. I’ve read a lot of studies and stats on women and board service and it boils down to this: women are half the US population, women earn 57% of bachelor’s degrees, 62% of masters degrees, and 53% of Phd, medical and law degrees. Representation by women on boards in the United States–whether you look at public, private, nonprofit, or particular industries–is generally below 20%.
There are many reasons behind the gender gap at the board level. Board seats usually go to individuals who hold top positions in their organizations, the positions just beyond the proverbial glass ceiling. Unconscious bias (something men and women have) in hiring, managing and promoting women throughout their careers is a primary contributing factor. Women are also tapped out, since they often have to work harder to be recognized at work, and also carry more of the load at home, particularly working mothers.
The good news is that we see a lot more data in the last few years about the benefits of a diverse board, including gender diversity, for boards of directors. We’ll be exploring this topic during our “Women on Corporate Boards” session, with facilitator Major General Lee Price and four outstanding panelists at the Momentum Leadership Conference in February. I look forward to posting some insights from that panel in March. Stay tuned.