The first time Laura stepped into a boardroom as a director, the feeling was strangely familiar.
“It felt,” she laughs when she tells the story, “like starting at a new school. I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know what they were talking about. They had all these names and acronyms that I didn’t understand. Here I was, an executive with more than 20 years’ experience in the media industry and I was a bundle of nerves. In the first meeting I barely said anything, worried I wouldn’t add any value.”
The transition to board director can be challenging, especially for women, who are often in a minority and sometimes the only female in the room.
But it was a step that Laura wanted to take. For herself and for others: it is vitally important that more women and minorities take their seat at the table.
“This felt like the right next chapter for me. I had been thinking about it for nearly five years, but still had all sorts of doubts and questions in my head…Where do I start? Who do I speak to? Which company do I approach and how? Deep down, though, I knew I was ready.”
For Laura, the tipping point came in a conversation over lunch when someone at Deloitte US she was working with happened to mention Deloitte’s TMT (Technology, Media and Telecommunication) Board-Ready Women Series. A few weeks later, Laura attended the first of three sessions in the programme.
The invitation-only series is designed to support the candidacy of women who aspire to serve on public company boards. Participants get advice from experienced board members and recruiters, hear from experts on hot topics in the boardroom today and receive help in developing their board bios.
Importantly, each meeting opens and closes with networking - a skill that many are often hesitant to use but which is essential in entering a field with few openings. This also creates connections with boards who are looking for candidates but may not know how to find them.
Now in its fourth year, the series has already helped over 67 women become board-ready, many of whom now serve on boards.
“From being inspired and encouraged by other participants to learning useful ‘how-to’s’, joining the programme was the catalyst I needed. I knew at the first session that I was ready. Around the same time, I heard from a friend about an opening on a board, and I was on my way.”
Just six months after joining the board of her new company, Laura’s impact is already being felt. She recently raised the need for more senior women to join the company’s executive team and other directors were immediately receptive. A far cry from her timid first meeting, and an example, amongst many, of the transformative difference women can make when they come “on board.”
Laura has also started mentoring several other women seeking their first board placement – knowing first-hand the power of connections and the impact they can have on someone ready to take that step.
“There is a mystique about being a woman on a board and there shouldn’t be. You will be welcome and expected to figure it out like any other member of the team. It’s a big responsibility and a serious time commitment, but it will give you an incredible opportunity to bring your world view into the room, use your experience thus far, and give back. If you’re ready to take that seat, go and ask for it.”