NOTE: Toni is one of our founding members and hosts the semi-annual gatherings at her home…. She graciously offered this column for our Blog.
7 practical steps for women: getting into and surviving the c-suite job or the boardroom
womenomics: firms with more women in the c-suite are more profitable (2015: ey and hbr); with 40% of mba graduates and 40% of women in management, out of 22,000 firms surveys: 60% had no women on the board; 50% had no women in executive management or c-suite; and of the remaining 50%: 57% has one female executive and less than 5% had a woman ceo! those that had women in mgt or board were 15% more profitable! 😊
here’s what worked for gerri elliott (and me)!
- define your value proposition, your targets, your passions, your strengths:
take inventory: what are you good at; what is your leadership style and profile (strengthfinders; meyers briggs; four people you should know. sit down and do an honest assessment of your experience and what kind of companies and jobs you can help the most. be specific. include geography, vertical industries, types of projects and jobs you have had, skills and competencies as well as ‘what you like’.
be able to say, “i can help this company or a company in these industries, in these cities, in these specific ways,” instead of just saying, “i want a c-suite job or a board seat,”
and, then, use your network to ask: “given this: ……, who do you know that might be a good fit for me?”
- ask for the support of your current leadership team and take credit:
if you’re still working in management or in a company; ask for support from the ceo or current c-suite executives. be assertive. ask what it will take? how long? it’s more important to know that answer than to ‘guess’ or ‘hope’.
if you want to serve on a board, and you are already in management in a company: ask the ceo. this is a crucial step. i’ve seen both women and men decide board service is something they want to do, and get pretty far along in the process without having a conversation with their current leadership to determine if there is support for the process and for the time.
permission is one thing; active support is even better. ask them how to endorse you by serving as a reference. that’s hugely powerful. if they don’t support you, it’s a non-starter – at least for the time being. so, communicate your intentions from the outset.
survival is based on assessment of the ‘as is’. ask what you can continuously do to improve you and the value you deliver. define it; deliver it; take credit for it.
- cast a wide net.
once you’ve defined your value proposition and what kind of jobs or boards you want to be on, let your network- at-large know. go through your outlook contacts; go through your linked-in network; go through your facebook and twitter followers; contact every recruiter that you know.
send an email and follow-up with every single contact or call. you will find the ones that really do want to help you.
and, say thank you! (also, ask what you can do to help them, and if they tell you something, do it!)
- gather your references and build your tribe
you may already have a set of references, but the references you use to get a c-suite job or get on a public board may be different than the references you use to get your next operating gig.
ideally, you need references from c-suite members and board member participants.
prepare your references with the way you would like them to answer questions about you. tell them what you would like them to say when asked: “how do you think she’s going to perform in the boardroom? can she think innovatively? can she assert an opinion but not be disruptive?”
you need references that can speak to their experience in seeing you in action, give them what you would like them to say.
- educate yourself before you start the process and during the journey; get some experience.
at some point in this process, someone will ask you, “how much experience do you have?” ask for the opportunity to lead a project or a team. ask to present to the board of your company; build a list of: ‘this is my experience in leading, managing and presenting’.
serve on a non-profit board and assume leadership in committees and programs for experience and exposure.
if you aspire to lead; take every opportunity you can get to present in front of your current c-suite and board and show them what you are doing and what results you are delivering.
take board education in preparation for interviews. get some credentials: duke, ucla, kellogg school of management have classes specifically for women executives and directors.
forbes: ask not what your career can do for you, ask what you can do for it says:
join industry vertical groups and professional organizations: (the board connection is for women looking for their first board). go to seminars. intern. get certified with credentials. leverage tuition reimbursement. join groups on linked-in. tweet; blog; speak.
get a mentor and practice interviewing. gain a repertoire of answers that support your experience.
be outcome based … deliver, get feedback, deliver again
make your team members look good; make suggestions; make a difference when you are there … every day.
- get expert help if you need it.
there are lots of ways to land a job or and more than one way to land a board seat. there are a few recruiting firms out there that do what i call reverse recruiting. they work proactively to go after a target list of boards which may be right for you.
establish your brand: hire a personal coach to get you ‘ready’;
use a consultant to get your cv in shape and create a bio and linked-in page
get your headshot done by a pro.
- choose wisely and be careful what you ask for.
taking a new position of executive leadership or joining a board is an extremely important long-term decision. there is personal and professional liability.
evaluate jobs and boards for fit. find out everything you can about the company and the leadership team. decide if your values are aligned.
ask for their expectations regarding time; travel; work style; culture; ethics; compensation. ask how they measure success for the role?
then, be honest with yourself about whether you can commit. you need to commit a minimum of 3-5 years to do the work and reap the reward. know what you are signing up for.
it’s always easier to get lucky if you have a plan.
so, if invitations aren’t flowing your way, get out there and make it happen.
somewhere out there, there’s job or a board that needs you!
- start each day with a task completed
- find someone to help you through life
- respect everyone
- know that life is not fair and you will fail often
- step up when the times are the toughest
- face down the bullies
- lift up the downtrodden
- readily make decisions and take risks …
- and … never, ever give up !!!
- firms with more women in the c-suite are more profitable https://hbr.org/2016/02/study-firms-with-more-women-in-the-c-suite-are-more-profitable
- women make bolder leaders https://hbr.org/2016/04/do-women-make-bolder-leaders-than-men?referral=03759&cm_vc=rr_item_page.bottom
- is gender diversity profitable: https://piie.com/publications/wp/wp16-3.pdf
- why boards need more women https://hbr.org/2012/06/why-boards-need-more-women?referral=03759&cm_vc=rr_item_page.bottom
- four people you should know: https://www.amazon.com/four-people-you-should-know/dp/1605853534
- gerri elliott: http://fortune.com/2014/09/18/how-one-woman-landed-her-first-board-seat-in-the-fortune-500/
- broadrooms: http://broadrooms.com