Step 4: Network Like It's Your Job
Ok, you've decided what type of board you want to join. But, did you know that 92% of board seats are filled through networking? Because smaller companies often have smaller boards and smaller budgets to conduct searches for diverse candidates, existing board members will often appoint people from their networks. Due to this sourcing method, these networks remain majority white male.
Relationships matter, so, if you want to be on a board, you need to get yourself into the right circles. The easiest way to do this is to 1) show up and 2) advertise that you’re looking. You should never try to be a board member for an organization you aren't already familiar with in some way. Instead, start out as a member. Talk to board members of organizations you work with or admire, and ask them how they got there. For corporate boards, you may need to advertise your search more broadly: Add it to your LinkedIn profile byline. Reach out to board recruiters. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Go to industry events.
You may be thinking, “I’m a spouse; I’m a mother; I have a full-time job. How am I supposed to make time to get exposure outside of work?”
Highly-sought-after board member Amy Chang, who sits on the board of Cisco Systems and the advisory board of HubSpot, offers this advice: “I take one meeting a week with people who are not directly involved in my precise work. You are not going to have chemistry with 9/10 of them, but 1/10 will yield a connection that you can nurture. Nobody has time for eveything, but aspire to one meeting per week. It allows serendipity to happen a lot more easily.”
While most female board members report that their positions came as a result of knowing current members of the board they joined, it doesn't mean that you have to rely on your network alone. Ask leaders at your company if they know any organizations looking for potential board members, or if they would be willing to introduce you to board members in their network. Conversely, if you're an executive looking to help close the gender gap, offer to mentor a woman at your company positioning herself to apply for board membership. Networking is a team sport.