You're a successful professional woman who worked hard, rose through the ranks and razed every hurdle along the way. Now it’s time to achieve your next goal—a seat in the boardroom. After all, you’ve come so far. Why not harbor higher ambitions and seek greater career success?
But the next level is not just about working smartly or making sacrifices. It’s also about planning and consciously charting out how you can move ahead while accepting, competing and building roles, responsibilities, skills and expertise.
So, what thoughts and actions can you be mindful of as you embark on this journey–not just for you but for so many others who will look up to you as a trailblazer. After all, only 4.9% of Fortune 500 CEOs today are women, so your presence truly matters.
Here’s a six-step guide for your journey to the boardroom.
1. Judge your contributions
Whether it is joining your current company’s board or of another organization, you must find where you can be relevant. Look for that specific need in a company that you can fulfill and play with it. Ask yourself:
What is that specific functional perspective that I can bring to the table?
What outside angle can I give that will synchronize with what the board requires?
Will I bring technical expertise that is missing?
What is the business challenge I’ll solve differently owing to my industry expertise?
Once you know your value proposition, begin working on it. It takes time to build a reputation as an expert in a relevant field. Be an industry speaker, write articles or blogs and become known in a niche space such as financial auditing, corporate law, coding, artificial intelligence, digital transformation and crisis management, among others.
Apurva Purohit, president – Jagran Prakashan Group, notes in her book "Lady, You're the Boss, 2019" that while it’s critical to get on a board, it is as critical to not be just a mute spectator.
2. Build lasting relationships
Once you understand the intricacies of the organizations, reach out to people, talk to headhunters. promote yourself, be visible and make sure you’re heard. Renu Sud Karnad, managing director of HDFC Ltd., cannot emphasize enough on the importance of effective networking.
However, don’t limit networking to your visibility. Network about your skills too. Talk about the core expertise you can bring to the table if you become a board member. And while networking, as new opportunities open up, be ready to take intelligent risks. It can catapult your career to the next level.
3. Keep upskilling
In today’s dynamic ecosystems, upskilling is a necessity cutting across industries. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder of Biocon, states: "In technology sensitive sectors such as biotech, it is extremely important to stay abreast with the latest tech developments." Attend new training programs, take management courses, learn fresh techniques and gather up-to-date information. Keep learning and do not hesitate to ask.
Today, there are so many online training models to choose from as the world of ed-tech is booming with bespoke solutions that make on the job learning seamless and interesting.
4. Seek and give help
Finding the right people—mentors and sponsors both—is critical. A workplace advocate who actively helps open doors for you is essential, especially in male-dominated industries. Of course, for a sponsor to want to stand behind your advancement, you have to show you're worth the effort. As Arundhati Bhattacharya, India’s first woman chairperson of SBI, and now independent director in multiple companies shares, "There are lots of people who will help along the way including mentors, but you also have to make it possible for them to help you."
Alongside, be a mentor yourself. Inspire other women to reach where you have. Build goodwill of being a professional who lifts others up. There is a reason Zia Mody, co-founder of AZB & Partners, enjoys the proud moniker "Big Mamma", given the hours she has spent mentoring her juniors in the early days.
5. Leverage the diversity-sensitive environment
Boardroom planning has become gender sensitive. Women independent directors are no longer a rarity. Organizations are becoming very cognizant that the more diverse they are, the better it is from a business perspective. They’re quoting studies that clearly show how productivity and different thinking comes in with women being decision makers along with men. Hence, companies are beginning to be far more focused on ensuring there is no gender bias. Gender diversity is now a leadership priority.
All this means a greater chance of women making it to the boardroom.
6. Keep the fire burning!
Once we attain a certain position or an aspired-to lifestyle, we may become content with our achievements and settle down. In her book, Apurva says: "The sense of self-satisfaction and unwillingness to strive further is one of the several reasons why women reach the CXO level but don’t grow beyond it."
Research shows that women score higher than men in most leadership skills. You’ve got all it takes, so go for it! Secure your seat in the boardroom.
Don't limit networking to your visibility. Network about your skills too. And while networking, as new opportunities open up, be ready to take intelligent risks. It can catapult your career to the next level.