Board Opportunities in 2021 and Beyond: Tips on How to Get Invited to Serve on a Board

Do You Know The Landscape? There was a significant shift in how boards thought about adding new members in 2020. In the Fortune 500, 425 seats were filled, and there was a notable leap in representation of Black directors (28%) up from 10% in previous years. There were several factors that have influenced this market change.

Boards were increasingly expected to address topics as wide-ranging as community responsibility, sustainability, diversity, equity, inclusion, remote working, and crisis management forced boards to operate differently.
■ Organizations have had to work to comply with regulatory diversity mandates and respond to investor demands for advancing board diversity.
■ Boards continue to look beyond the trend of CEOs/CFOs and are open to active executives with experience in Financial Services, Risk/Compliance, Cyber Security, International, Digital or Social Media, Sustainability, and Diversity and Inclusion.
■ Boards added people with experience in other areas of the C-suite as well as people who have run P&Ls but not had the CEO title. Boards have been open to new directors at divisional/regional CEO, military, government, and academia, also managing directors or partners in financial and professional services.

What Type of Boards Should I Consider?
■ Start-up/Growth Company – investors, different risk profile, significant time commitment.
■ Private Company – family-owned, operating executives, unique dynamics and governance structure.
■ Public Company – preparation for Fortune boards, reputation is important.
■ Not-for-Profit – personal interest and passion, evaluate the composition of the board, different types/sizes.
■ Fortune Company – high-profile, time-consuming, board composition strong, likely not your starting point. It is encouraging to see a significant increase in Black directors and the trend will continue and expand. We expect boards to add more expertise with executives in Technology, HR, Capital Allocation and continue to build a wide range of commercial expertise.

How Do I Get the Right Visability to Be Considered for a Board Director Seat?
■ Get the right experience – seek out experiences that provide both depth and breadth of perspective and responsibilities.
■ Raise your profile – speak at conferences, play an active role in industry associations, become an author, be present on online professional networks, create blogs or podcasts, and become a thought leader.
■ Get educated – attend programs (e.g., National Association of Corporate Directors, ELC Corporate Board Initiative, Heidrick & Struggles Board Institute, Stanford and Harvard’s Directors College, The Leverage Network, etc.) aimed at improving your ability to contribute meaningfully to corporate oversight activities, and become a valuable director.
■ Look beyond the Fortune 500 – join a smaller public company board or private board or seek out a seat on a non-profit board or a business school/university advisory council. Don’t assume that Fortune 500 are the only Boards where you can make an impact.
■ Be proactive about networking – make the “net-work” by developing relationships that provide guidance and visibility and participate in both formal and informal networks.

6 Tips for Positioning Yourself for a Board (Remember you have to be invited to join a board.)
■ Assess your readiness for board service – examine your  leadership experience and specific expertise.
■ Don’t rely solely on self-assessment – get advice on strategy and your strengths and weaknesses.
■ Approach your board search as you would a job search – do your due diligence, develop a board resume, develop a list of contacts related to board governance.
■ Develop your elevator pitch – what do you have to offer a Board? How do you tell your story?
■ Make your net-work – make connections with others who have relationships with boards.
■ Get preliminary experience on a non-profit board – many of these organizations exercise governance with the same rigor that major public companies do.

Billy Dexter/Partner, Heidrick & Struggles, Global Executive Search. Data and Statistics provided by Heidrick & Struggles 2021 Board Monitor Report: see full report at

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