4 Ways Black Women Can Position Themselves for Corporate Board Seats

How women of color can break the glass ceiling and earn a seat on their corporate board of choice

corporate board seats
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In 2013, MetricStream Inc. CEO Shellye Archambeau received a call from Verizon Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam to let her know that she was on the short list for a seat on the telecommunications giant’s board of directors. When asked in an interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE‘s Editorial Director for Women of Power, Caroline Clarke, how she made the cut, she said, with a chuckle, “I told everybody I knew, met, or interacted with that I was interested in serving on a large corporate board.”

This CEO of leading Silicon Valley-based corporate governance, risk, and compliance software firms has successfully managed to break the barrier that has left a multitude of black female professionals locked out of the boardroom. According to a report from Catalyst, only 3.1% of S&P 500 board seats are held by women of color.

I recently talked with Archambeau, who also serves as a director on the board of upscale retailer Nordstrom, about reversing the trend.  She believes more black women can gain board seats through an intentional approach she employed early in her career.

“In my late 30s, I set a goal and said, ‘Alright, by the time I’m 45, I want to be serving on a public company board,’ ” she recalls. “It will give me skills that will help me with being a CEO, but it will also help me with my overall objective of wanting to be able to contribute at a board level.”

Advice to Black Women Starting Their Careers

 

On numerous occasions, Archambeau has shared her advice to young, black female professionals on what it takes to become a corporate director. The following are her recommendations:

The following are her recommendations:

1. Focus on Your Endgame

For those seeking board positions, Archambeau says you must be “very purposeful about what you’re doing, in terms of driving to that. You need to self-assess your skills and capabilities.”

She also says that it is important to “go to courses that are targeted towards people who are board members and want to be board members.”

2. Gain P&L Experience

Archambeau says when black women usually “get to the senior executive levels, it tends to be in more supportive roles—like head of diversity, HR, or marketing—versus P&L positions.”

More than ever, corporate boards prize individuals with who have made strategic, big-picture financial decisions. That’s why so many recruit CEOs, CFOs, or retired execs who previously held such positions. Advises Archamabeau,”Try to align your career and experiences to match those roles.”

3. Campaign Early and Often for a Board Seat

Once you’ve gained the skills and capabilities, Archambeau maintains, that you treat “getting on a board similar to finding a job. Look at your network of people who currently serve on boards, and let them know you’re interested, because existing board members tend to get calls about being on new boards.”

 4. Choose Boards That Align With Your Interests, Passions, and Beliefs

Board service is a long-term commitment, so make sure the company connects with your value system. For instance, Archambeau says she decided to serve on the boards of Verizon and Nordstrom because they “have high integrity, strong corporate cultures, have a good business, and are undergoing transformation. These personal interests of mine, and they are [also], indeed, embracing the future role of technology.”



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