I was recently at a women’s networking event when one of the speakers shared a very sobering statistic.
Apparently, the average male executive has his first board position by the time he is thirty. This experience paves the way for his growth and development and expands his network, which helps when he is looking for his next big job. More contacts equals more leads and opportunities.
Meanwhile, this is the time in life when many women are starting families. Most men are too, but it’s not surprising that women struggle to catch up, as they are often the primary caregivers in a family while juggling their own career.
Who has time to serve on a board? In the end, this can have implications down the road as men walk away with new skills and experiences that set them up for success in board positions at work and in increasingly prestigious nonprofits.
Research backs this up, according to Nonprofit Quarterly: “Overall, women comprise 43 per cent of the membership of nonprofit boards; but that drops to 33 percent when considering boards of nonprofits with incomes of $25 million or more.”
In the UK, groups like the 30% Club have pushed to get more women into company board positions with a target of 30 per cent of women on their board. Thankfully, this number has risen from 12.5 per cent in 2010 to 27 per cent today. It’s great news that women are making progress, but more can be done.
In my view, there are ways that women can leverage the work they do for the community to help build business skills as well. I firmly believe that women can engage in roles in local nonprofit boards to boost their business careers too. When people see women succeeding in, leading, and sustaining communities, it is a springboard to other areas of success.
Being on board
My first board position started when I was 28 and it was with a small, non-profit organisation that encouraged corporate social responsibility. It was not easy at first. Things weren’t very organised and we needed funds. I learned the art of compromise and of holding to our values and mission. In one instance, I highlighted that we should order catering for all of our events to save time and money. Another board member agreed but said that we should only use a sustainable grocer, which might cost slightly more.
In the end, we found an ethical grocer who was able to make us a good deal. This kept us in line with our mission, saved on costs and the food was amazing. In business, we’re called on to make compromises all of the time and being on the board of a charity meant that I could take the skills I developed back into my workplace.
Another positive aspect for me was that I broadened my network beyond people I would normally have a chance to interact with – including the board member who called everyone out to remind us of our mission. I later had the pleasure of hosting a women’s leadership event at the new sustainable coffee house she founded years after the board position ended.
According to research cited in Forbes magazine, “multiple, peer-reviewed studies [have shown that], simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success” and “half of the predicted difference in career success (i.e, promotion, compensation, industry recognition) is due to this one variable.”
Getting started is easy. In some cases, you may need to check with your company to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest with the organisation you are joining and your role. It’s best to check with your HR department first. If you think you have what it takes, here are a few ideas for getting started.
Check with your company
Some organisations have programmes that help get women onto charity boards to help build skills and abilities. One of my previous companies had a programme that gave training credit in exchange for serving in a volunteer charity role. This could help you raise your profile within your organisation.
Link to organisations you already support
Many of us are engaged with community organisations already. Could your local school need a new trustee? Does the neighborhood theatre board require someone with tech skills? Maybe your family was helped by a great charity that could use your finance degree?
Do a bit of research and see how they could use your abilities. A board position might be ready and waiting for you now.
Seek out groups that can match you with a position
Directors that can help you get started. Women on Boards charges a fee of about £120 a year for access to their list of openings and they provide training and events for an additional cost. These are just a few of the organisations out there that can support your goals.
Hopefully, these tips will get you moving in the right direction to support your career and community at the same time. There are a lot of great nonprofit boards out there that could use your help…and it might help you too!
About the author
Joy Adams is a blogger and one of WATCs 2015 Rising Stars. She is a British-American businesswoman who has worked in both the public and private sectors in the US and UK. Joy currently serves on the Advisory Board for Vital Voices Europe, an organization dedicated to supporting and developing women leaders. She also writes a lifestyle blog for budding philanthropists and art collectors at Luxeher.com.
The Workher blog is all about taking your work life to the next level with practical tips and details on the latest news about pay, progression, and opportunities.