How to secure your first Board seat? A 6-steps guide for LGBTQ+ professionals
As I have mentioned in my previous post, companies are reckoning with LGBTQ+ representation in the American corporate boardroom.
In August, NASDAQ is starting to mandate disclosure of Board Member’s sexual orientation and gender identity for its listed companies. Concretely, it means that companies are going to have to justify to investors why their all-straight board continues to make sense even when they claim diversity among employees and consumers adds value (see my recent article: What the Grindr Board tells us about other publicly listed companies?)
The market for LGBTQ+ candidates is about to get hot. Nominating and governance committees, Board recruiters and CEO/founders are increasingly seeking LGBTQ+ board-ready candidates. How will you get on their radar screen?
Here are six concrete steps I usually suggest to my candidates (from most to least important):
1. Tell your network you are interested in Board Service
Your search should be known to all. Mention it at the top of your LinkedIn profile of course. But perhaps more importantly make a list of all the CEOs, Start-up Founders and Board Members in your network and reach out to them individually. Inform them you are looking and ask them for a quick call. I often tell my candidates to ask for advice in their initial email with questions such as “Is accreditation useful? Which program do you recommend?”. And expand your network, by attending the events of your business school alumni association or the local NACD chapter. Remember the vast majority of opportunities are word-of-mouth.
2. Define your Board expectations
Besides if you have been CEO or CFO of a Fortune 500 or are a University Dean, Assistant Secretary, leader in science or the head of a large foundation, target smaller companies instead of Fortune 1000 for your first board. In any case, most of the Board opportunities are outside of this grouping. As an example, while many candidates have the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) events on their radar screen, they often overlook the Private Directors Association (PDA). There is such a thing as a “board career” — the idea that you could progress to bigger and better boards overtime if you wish.
3. Make it clear you are part of the LGBTQ+ community
Relatively to gender or race, it might be harder for companies and recruiters to infer whether you belong to the LGBTQ+ candidate from a simple Google search or an online profile. So why don’t you just tell them upfront? Writing “LGBTQ+ senior professional looking for board service” on top of your LinkedIn profile or Board resume will be a game -changer.
4. Build a Board resume
A board resume is a resume with a chapeau”. It’s not rocket science: include your previous and ongoing board experience including non-profit, private boards but also corporate advisory positions. Be specific with committee work or specialization (e.g. “bringing new drug to market”, “Merger & acquisition”, “taking company to IPO”, “defining ESG strategy”). Highlights relevant experience in fundraising, making valuable connections, helping companies grow. Here are hundreds of examples. You can then share it with your network (see 1.).
5. Seek Board accreditation
Frankly the main advantages of board accreditation are that these programs give you some “creed” and expand your network. You might even learn something. NACD has a great program so do PDA, Stamford or Harvard. The accreditations programs typically cost between $7,500 to $10,000. Board readiness programs on the other hand, when organized by private companies, can be useless.
6. Get on the diverse candidates lists
This is also related to point 3. Create profiles on Board search databases such as Equilar, Diligent, Bolster, BoardProspect, TheBoardlist or the UNC database which started last year to allow LGBTQ+ self-identification. If you are Latino, POC, a Woman, Asian or part of any other minority join the lists of Latino Corporate Director Association, the Board Challenge, the 30% Club or Ascend Pinnacle. So far the number of LGBTQ+ people present in these lists is minimal. As an example: less than 100 people self-identify as LGBTQ+ on the Equilar database which includes thousands of existing and aspiring board members. And get on my own list: the most comprehensive list of LGBTQ+ contacts that are board-ready: it’s free and I try to get visibility for your profile.
In conclusion, while the demand is about to pick up, LGBTQ+ Board candidates will need to raise their hand in very visible ways. An accomplished straight white male will require a year on average to land his first board opportunity, it can take up to three years for an LGBTQ+ professional of the same caliber. The key is persistence, intentionality and networking.
Fabrice Houdart is specialized in LGBTQ+ representation on corporate boards. He is a member of the Advisory Council of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) Inclusive Governance Center, was listed among the NACD 100 in 2021 and TheBoardList PRIDE 2022 top 10 Candidates. He is an expert witness for the California Department of Justice in two lawsuits against California AB979.