Fresh Insight: Getting a Seat in the Boardroom

While each board is unique, in general they are taking a more strategic and holistic approach to diversity.

by Sachi Vora

If you are an influential woman of color aspiring to join a corporate board of directors, now is the time for you to step up your efforts. And if you already hold a board seat, the time is ripe to advocate for more women of color, who can offer fresh expertise and perspective, to join you.

Why? Reflecting on the recent seismic events that have impacted DEI initiatives —COVID-19, economic unpredictability, social injustices—boards increasingly desire directors from different walks of life and with nontraditional leadership capabilities. They seek directors who represent their employees or target audiences, are in earlier career stages, possess knowledge of areas relatively new to board expertise (think ESG and cybersecurity), and are from different industries, according to Heidrick & Struggles’s 2022 Board Monitor report.

These boards are also looking for directors who understand and can advise when a company should take a stand on social and political issues. It’s no wonder the report found that a record 43 percent of public board members in 2021 were first-time directors, 45 percent were women, 41 percent racially or ethnically diverse, and a growing share active rather than retired executives.

While each board is unique, in general they are taking a more strategic and holistic approach to diversity. This spells opportunity and influence for women of color. Indeed, a new group surfaced in 2022: Black Women on Boards, founded by two veteran executives on leading tech company boards.

You cannot simply wait for a knock on this door of opportunity. As a Heidrick & Struggles partner in the CEO and Board of Directors practice, I advise the following to prospective board members—and also to current boards eager to expand diversity.

For board aspirants

Raise your hand. Network both inside and outside of your company. Internally, make your aspiration known to management, spotlighting your interest in expanding your career (and noting that they hold the key to delivering it). Externally, let your professional network know of your desire for board service, your credentials, and the board type that aligns with your interests and passion.

Know the demands. A board seat isn’t a “take charge” operating role. Instead, it requires a listener who asks insightful questions, demonstrates curiosity, and skillfully employs experience and expertise.

Expand your executive skills. Focus especially on decision-making experience on important financial projects.

For current directors

Work on your board. Help fellow directors grasp the advantages of board diversity, especially for women of color with essential voices who may be unlikely candidates, such as those with nontraditional career backgrounds.

Get to know promising women of color. Look both inside and outside the organization. Let them know they, too, can aspire to and attain a board seat. Expand networking opportunities for them with executives and directors, including visibility at appropriate board presentations.

Communicate DEI. Let employees and the community know the board’s deep interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Consider holding a board forum or similar DEI-focused initiative for employees and/or the community.

Our research confirms that boards of directors are more diverse than they once were. Seize opportunity—as a woman of color and influence striving for a board seat, or as a director seeking other women of color who can share their talents. DW

Sachi Vora is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’s New York City office and a member of the CEO and Board of Directors practice, among others.



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