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Jennifer Reynolds is president and chief executive officer of Women in Capital Markets.
Jennifer Reynolds is president and chief executive officer of Women in Capital Markets.


Want to be the first woman on the board? Here’s how to do it Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Women on boards is a hotly debated topic today and as the CEO of an advocacy group that represents the largest network of professional women working in Canada’s financial sector, I am thrilled to see the spotlight on this issue.

Globally, we are seeing increasing support for the business case for having more women on boards – to put it simply, those companies with more women on their boards make more money for their shareholders. The debate now has shifted to how we get more women on boards and if there is a supply of talented board-ready women to take those seats. Fortunately, the myth of lack of supply is red herring – Canada has no shortage of senior female executives who are ready to take on board roles. What we need to focus on is how to get those women on to Canada’s boards in significant numbers.

Clearly, a big part of the “how” will be driven by Canada’s boards today and how they choose to recruit for new directors. Those that opt to run robust director recruitment processes which mandate that women be included on candidate lists, will discover there are highly qualified women to add to their board. To find those women, they will likely have to look outside their current network and develop new ways to connect with potential candidates. For women, the challenge is how to get on the radar screen of those directors and make sure that you are on that list of candidates.

For those looking to launch their board career, here are five tips to position yourself for board opportunities and increase your exposure to board networks:

Build your board résumé

Getting on to a corporate board requires not only strong professional credentials, but also significant governance experience. That experience can be gained progressively, earlier in your career with smaller not-for-profit boards which can then open up opportunities on larger not-for-profit boards, non-governmental organizations, or crown corporations. Those board experiences not only develop governance expertise but also expand your board network and exposure for future board positions. Governance credentials can also be augmented with educational programming for directors offered through universities or accreditation programs.

Know the key competencies you bring to the table

There are certain qualities and skills any director needs to bring to the boardroom table. Governance experience, financial literacy and demonstrated leadership capability should be common to all board members. You should know how your expertise and professional experience fills a particular gap in the board and provides a unique skillset relative to other directors. Whether it is expertise in a specific industry, experience working internationally, or specializations in fields such as law or finance, you should be able to succinctly convey your strengths in person and through your board résumé.

Get to know board recruitment professionals

With mounting pressure on boards to present a diverse slate of directors, boards will increasingly turn to recruitment professionals to find candidates for director roles. Don’t wait for those recruiters to find you, make a point of getting to know key professionals in the industry. Ensure they walk away from those meetings with a clear idea of your defining credentials and the types of boards you are interested in serving on. Staying top of mind with recruiters is important, so don’t be shy to reach out to keep in touch and up to speed on new opportunities.

Mine your network

While more formal board recruitment processes may be on the rise, the reality is the majority of board seats end up being filled by someone in the network of the existing board members. That network may be one step removed from you but you might be surprised at the connections you can make with your existing network to move you onto the radar of today’s board members. Your professional network along with the networks you have through other boards, charity work, friends or family are often much broader than we think. Think about the connections your network might have to directors on boards you would like to target and broaden your network’s awareness of your interest in pursuing director roles.

Register on board candidate directories

There are a number of board candidate directories active today and these are a great way for your name to get known by nomination committees and recruiters. Some organizations actively promote the members on their directory while others are more passive resources. Regardless, these types of lists are all sources that boards will increasingly refer to in order to diversify their slate of director nominees.

The good news for women looking to launch a board career is that we are finally at a time of action when it comes to increasing the proportion of women on boards. There is a vast pool of talented female leaders in this country and it’s time to start seeing them in the board seats that help shape the economy and the country.

Jennifer Reynolds is president and chief executive officer of Women in Capital Markets (@WCMCanada).

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