Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How Long to Get a Board Seat?

A fascinating stat somewhat buried in the 2010 Board of Directors Survey recently released by Heidrick & Struggles and WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD) is this —

• It takes women about 2.4 years to achieve their first board seat once they start actively seeking a corporate directorship; the comparable "time in search" for men is 1.4 years.

The one-year difference in male-female board seating is an interesting story in itself. But my reaction to this statistic is this: Call me just a tad skeptical.

I say that based on years of anecdotal reports from close readers of Directors & Boards who have written and called me for counsel on the best ways to be considered for a corporate board. My sense from these interactions is that it typically takes longer — sometimes a lot longer — than the 1-3 years cited in the survey.

Here is one such seeker, who emailed me this note about a year ago:

When I turned 50, I felt like I had enough experience to add value to a public board of directors. I had served on private boards, and had also briefly been chairman of a public company. I want to serve for a public company. I joined the National Association of Corporate Directors, and began soliciting smaller public companies to serve on their boards. I even solicited pink sheet companies. I solicited private equity firms to serve on the boards of portfolio companies. I signed up with headhunters, and Nasdaq Board Recruiting. In the last several years, I have sent my CV to hundreds of people, and made hundreds of telephone calls. I have been in the running, but so far no board positions.

I did not have much to offer to this fellow — and it was a man who wrote this — other than to say that it seemed to me like he was doing all the right things. I passed along a few keen advisories on "How to Get on a Board" that Directors & Boards has published, and also planted the idea that one thing he might consider to raise his profile is to do some writing on leadership issues for us and other prominent publications.

But after receiving notes like his, and reading and hearing many similar stories of the frustrations in trying to crack the code of the director selection process, you can see why this particular stat jumped out at me. I am tempted to do some further fact finding on this. Stay tuned for that in Directors & Boards in 2011.

This board survey, overall quite impressive in its findings, is recommended reading for both present board members and hopeful candidates, and can be accessed on both the WCD website and the Heidrick & Struggles website.

Pictured is Susan Stautberg, the enterprising co-founder and co-chair of WomenCorporateDirectors, an organization that describes itself as "the only global community of women corporate directors."