Women of Power Professionals Unlock Impact on a Larger Scale with Keys to the Boardroom

Women of Power Professionals Unlock Impact on a Larger Scale with Keys to the Boardroom

OK, ladies, now let’s get in position!

It was an exciting morning to see so many women turn out for the “Keys to the Boardroom session,” hosted by Gilead, during BLACK ENTERPRISE’s 2023 Women of Power Summit.

Ready with note-taking tools in hand to dive into the necessary tips for getting involved in board service and how to best position themselves for directorships, the roomful of women was enthused about moving forward in the corporate world.

Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and General Counsel at Gilead and Independent Director at Atricure, Inc., Deborah H. Telman, broke down the different types of boards in terms of public company boards, private equity boards, and mutual funds.

“Many people know and understand the idea of public company boards,” which Telman noted was the type she is a part of. “That’s just one type of board you can think about,” she said while continuing to expound on private equity boards.

“There’s a whole different process in terms of how you connect with private equity” she added, noting its importance on building relationships.

“They have a different focus, but generally, they will have a large stake in a private company and they will appoint board members who certainly represent that private equity firm.”

“There’s also mutual funds,” which Telman concluded is another type of board that needs directors.

Panelist Arlene Isaacs-Lowe, independent board director for Equitable Holdings, Inc, Xenia Hotels and Resorts, Inc., and Compass Group PLC chimed in saying, “I think as things have evolved, especially around the demand for more diverse board members, they’re now looking at functional expertise.”

She emphasized that a board role is nothing like having a job.

“You have to vet it like a marriage,” she added, giving her perspective of a public company. Isaacs-Lowe explained that being board ready means that an individual has taken time to deeply examine a particular area.

Telman brought up the limitation that many companies will only allow individuals to join a certain amount of public boards.

“So, you also need to make sure you talk to your manager, senior executives, to make sure that they’re comfortable with you joining a board,” Telman shared. “Many companies encourage it because it is an area where you can learn expertise [and] leadership. It helps you be a better leader at your company, but it’s something you will have to have a conversation with in terms of your manager.”

Telman believes being a part of these boardrooms takes a combination of IQ and EQ. “That obviously comes from life experiences,” she said.

“As you look at your skill-set, you should think about, where is my skill-set? Where is that going to play well? Because that means you’re going to show up much better in those interviews when you have something that you can offer,” Telman added.

It’s important for those seeking to join a board to reflect on the types of experiences they’ve had. For example, having experience in different locales could work in the favor of someone thinking about a multinational board.

“Cultural competency is always an important aspect of being able to be successful in markets outside of the U.S.,” Issacs-Lowe said. “You have to be mindful of…can I be in the trenches with these people?” she continued. “…The ability to sort of express that during an interview is very important, and it takes finesse.”

Pamela Puryear, independent board director for SpartanNash, NextGen Healthcare, and Standard Motor Products, made one thing very clear to the women in the room.

“When you start moving into the board worlds, it’s a whole new set of learnings,” she said. “One negative vote can take you off a slate in a board. They don’t spend a lot of time debating.”

She was very straightforward in delivering the message that one has to be willing to give up their C-suite role comfort level and be able to move into a boardroom where someone else is in charge of executing the plan.

“For the most part, when people say your name, something very positive is expressed, it is very very important in the board world that that is the case.”