Panelists offer women professionals tips for getting on corporate boards

Maryland lags behind the national average for women serving on corporate boards of directors. However, the number of women board members is increasing slowly, according to new data presented at a March 28 GBC-sponsored program, “All aboard – Getting Considered for Board Service.”

Women now hold 11.1 percent of seats on boards of 66 publicly-traded companies headquartered in Maryland, slightly less that the 13.6 percent national average, according to a fall 2005 survey conducted by Network 2000, Inc., a statewide organization dedicated to promoting the professional growth and development of women.

“There is much work to be done,” said Network 200 President Lynne Durbin. “Women represent more than half of our population, but only one-tenth of the corporate governance in Maryland. There is a hug gap between where women currently stand in business leadership and where we should be.”

The GBC and Network 2000 co-sponsored the “All Aboard” event, held at the Tremont Grand in Baltimore, which drew an audience of more than 120. The featured panel discussion offered tips for landing seats on corporate boards. Panel members were James T. Brady, managing director of Ballantrae International, Inc.; Robert J. Lawless, chairman, president and CEO of McCormick & Co.; and Abigail Smith, principal of Abigail E. Smith & Associates.

Advice from panelists included:

  • Cultivate and market your personal expertise. “Think about what you bring to the table,” said Brady. “Make sure that companies understand the expertise that you have.” Corporate boards value expertise in a number of areas including financial management, marketing, technology, international business, and human resources.
  • Make sure you have the time to devote to the job. “Board membership is not an honorarium. It is a job,” Brady said. Board meetings can be lengthy and there is much work to be done in between board meetings.
  • Don’t wait to be called. Target boards that you would like to serve on. “Identify companies where you feel you could make a contribution,” Smith said.
  • Seek to be on boards where you will fit in. Research other board members and the composition of a board you might be interested in joining. “A lot of boards in America have people who don’t fit in,” said Lawless.
  • Consider serving on nonprofit boards for experience. Nonprofit board service gives you valuable experience and also connects you with other business leaders, said Smith.
  • Once on a board, don’t just show up. Be a part of board discussions. “You have to participate. You’ve got to speak your mind,” said Lawless. Also, prepare to be evaluated every year. “You have to be ready for feedback,” Lawless added.

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