In last week’s column, I addressed the recent ABA Journal article and its very damaging generalization of women lawyers and lawyer moms. I received a surge of emails and messages on my responsive piece — thank you to all who reached out in support of my rebuttal to the ABA Journal article. I will be writing a follow-up piece in a few weeks.
At the conclusion of the article, I explained the need for placing more women in the boardroom, and this unleashed a surge of emails from lawyers asking how they can prepare for and obtain a board seat. It is actually a question I am often asked on a weekly basis. As a result, I wanted to devote this week’s piece to ideas and strategies lawyers can utilize to advance into the boardroom.
Besides the obvious part of updating your resume, creating a board bio, and optimizing your LinkedIn to reflect your high-level leadership and business acumen, you should prepare your elevator pitch and board statement. Think about ways in which your leadership within your legal career has also circulated across your community involvement to further increase your value proposition. Consider emerging trends in business and how your passion, unique value, and expertise can be an asset to a company’s board.
Drawing out your best assets to position yourself for a board seat may feel overwhelming. You may also be conflicted as to how to round out your career. Don’t be afraid to seek out the advice of an executive coach who can help provide guidance and help you overcome roadblocks or obstacles.
If you’re an in-house counsel, you will most definitely want to focus on leveraging your corporate governance experience. Since you’re operating at the intersection of business and law, there’s an opportunity to be even closer to a boardroom seat and observe board interactions firsthand — from reporting to meetings, you will have hands-on experience in understanding the complex business issues the board is faced with. Additionally, the areas of compliance, risk, strategy, management, conflict resolution, crisis management, and financial reporting will also provide incremental value to your toolkit.
Being on a board seat brings a lot of opportunity to navigate the future of the company from both the legal and the business side, including key corporate areas: environmental and social governance (ESG), compensation, compliance, public policy, business expansion, and hypergrowth. The key is to leverage areas where you excel and where you can help the board solve complex issues — it can include intellectual property, M&A transactions, cybersecurity, and even data privacy.
In addition to updating your career documents, make sure your LinkedIn is optimized to land board opportunities. Begin to connect with other lawyers and nonlawyers who already sit on boards. They will often have access to other organizations and connections at those organizations that may be looking for a new board member. Make a list of organizations, relevant executives, and board members that you would love to have in your network — create a mix that includes nonprofit organizations and for-profit organizations. Don’t overlook connecting with recruiters who work exclusively in board placement.
Getting involved in boards can start from sitting on your homeowner’s board and other executive committees in professional associations as well as organizations of interest. Think about missions that are important to you and where you would love to plant your seed of board leadership. Serving on a board or board committee in a volunteer capacity will give you great insight into the leadership skill set as well as boost your relationship and networking opportunities. Assess the challenges the company is facing, determine how those coincide with relevant and emerging trends, and evaluate what areas of expertise you could leverage to solve those problems.
Another consideration is becoming involved in organizations that seek to advance and connect corporate directors and board leaders. Examples include the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), BoardSource, Catalyst, Chief, and Women Corporate Directors. Visit their websites. Read their blogs and see who actively publishes on them. Connect with those individuals on LinkedIn. Consider attending relevant summits and conferences. Don’t be afraid to seek out mentorship from those who are already members in these organizations — most often, they will have broader networks for you to access.
These are just some tips to get you started. Connect with me on LinkedIn if you have follow-up questions about advancing into the boardroom or joining a corporate board.
Wendi Weiner is an attorney, career expert, and founder of The Writing Guru, an award-winning executive resume writing services company. Wendi creates powerful career and personal brands for attorneys, executives, and C-suite/Board leaders for their job search and digital footprint. She also writes for major publications about alternative careers for lawyers, personal branding, LinkedIn storytelling, career strategy, and the job search process. You can reach her by email at email@example.com, connect with her on LinkedIn, and follow her on Twitter @thewritingguru.