May 28, 2015 — In April we heard from Sandra Stuart, on how to get your resume the attention it needs. She told how her Women On Board® mentor Sarah Raiss helped her tap into contacts at executive search firms. This month, Sarah Raiss tells why networking is so important to becoming known by those who can help you get onto a board.
When looking for board positions, being well networked is critical. You could have the very same skills and background as another candidate, but if that other person is “known” by a board member, recruiter, or a trusted source, it is likely the board will choose the “known” person. If you are not known, you will not be on the recruitment lists—even if companies cast a wide net for candidates.
So how do you become “known?” You need to be a natural at networking and enjoy doing it.
And you can’t just start at the point you decide to become a board member. You should be networking throughout your career. After all, you can’t have coffee with someone you just met and then expect them to help you get on a board. You can’t simply send your cover letter and bio/CV in to a board and automatically get selected.
I am pleased to have helped a number of women get considered for boards and get better networked. The board of Commercial Metals Company—where I am Chair of the Compensation Committee and on the Governance Committee—has two women and two ethnically diverse directors—making 40% of the board diverse. When I first joined, I was the only woman on a board of white men. On the board of AESO (the Alberta Electric System Operator), where I am Chair, one-third of board members are women. And Vermilion Energy, where I am on the Governance Committee, has just brought on its second woman, arriving at 17% diversity.
Diversity is critical to making better decisions, dealing with risks differently, and getting better financial results, as has been shown by numerous studies. I view diversity broadly. Including members with different educational and work backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, industries, nationalities, and so on, allows boards to think more broadly and holistically, approach complex issues in multiple ways, and ensure balance in analysis.
With my mentee Sandra Stuart, it has been easy for me to suggest her for a variety of boards—particularly companies in mining, gold, and energy—due to the breadth of her background and her interpersonal and leadership skills. She has been seriously considered for a couple of boards, but as she will shortly become the CEO of HSBC Canada, she will wait a short period of time before joining one. We discussed going on a board at the same time as taking on new responsibilities. Sometimes it is possible to ask to only be on one committee in the beginning, which makes entry onto the board a bit easier. Though being CEO of HSBC Canada will put Sandra on the radar screen for most lists created by boards and recruiters, she will continue to work at targeting the organizations she desires and to which she will provide the greatest value. Networking will be key, and I will continue to suggest her and give my “stamp of approval” when people ask me to recommend board-ready candidates. I know her well, have great confidence in her ability to be a terrific board member, and am more than willing to put my reputation on the line when I provide her name.