Day 3: How to Get a Seat on a Corporate Board

Panelists give actionable tips for women, and talk diversity

(Image: Thinkstock)
(Image: Thinkstock)

Session 12 of Black Enterprise’s Women of Power Summit provided tips on how to make position yourself for a corporate board position, from crafting a bio to presenting yourself in a way that makes a corporate board come running. Panelists were J. Veronica Biggins, managing director at Diversifies Search LLC; Dorothy Terrell, managing partner, FirstCap Advisors; and Deborah Wright, chairman of the board at Carver Bancorp Inc. Moderated by Nelda J. Conners, founder of the Pine Grove Holdings, LLC who sits on boards including Boston Scientific International, Vesuvious Pic, and Echo Global Logistics.

The women began by talking about how they earned positions on their respective boards. Terrell detailed her experience with an extensive background check.

“It’s who you know, how you know them, and once you get on it’s hard to get off,” said Wright, who serves on the board of Time Warner. In terms of leaving a board position, she added, “You need to do your own diligence about the company. Leaving a board is a very public event.”

The conversation transitioned to the theme of the trend of headhunters searching for board members, like Biggins’ company. “Start young. Think about the way you live your life,” she said. “Be aware of things going on around the world. Be informed. I do a lot of board searches, and inevitably somebody in that board room knows you and will advocate for you. You’ve got to be able to capture [how] you’ve lived a complicated clear life. You’re either the CEO of your own company or well placed in the top echelon of your own company.”

Sharing tips on the importance of having P&L experience and financial responsibility, Wright added, “They look for people who have been through a difficult business challenge and came out the other end. They want folks that will have some empathy for what they’re going through.”

“Make sure the board is something you’re looking for. It’s not a one way street,” Terrell added. “It is a lot of hard work. It’s not just going and sitting down and listening to presentations, but understanding more about board dynamics and how it relates to who you are.”

“When you think about a bio, it’s about who are you,” explained Terrell, who sits on the board for General Mills. She added that it’s ideal to include not only what you’ve done, but who you’re affiliated with in terms of your network. “That’s the bits they’re trying to pull from a bio.”

On the topic of corporate board diversity, the women brought up the importance of pushing forward the conversation in the room. “If you’re not proud of who you are, you’re at the wrong table. I do ask questions,” said Biggins, who sits on the boards for AVNET and Southwest Airlines. “In today’s world, diversity should be discussed. I do not hesitate to raise a question.”

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