Photo by Christina on Unsplash

January Ventures hosted an intimate session with Jocelyn Mangan, Founder and CEO of HimForHer, to discuss: demystifying the boardroom. After a storied product career in the tech industry, Jocelyn, who sits on a public board (Papa Johns) and on the board of a hyper-growth startup (ChowNow), launched HimForHer to get more women on boards.

It is more important than ever to address the lack of gender parity on corporate boards. According to the Equilar Gender Diversity Index, only 23.5% of board seats are held by women. 6% of companies in the index have no women at all on their board, 8% are at least 40% female, and only 2.4% of companies have boards that are at least half female. At the current rate, boards will not hit gender parity in 2032. HimForHer aims to address this problem and give more women the opportunity to sit on boards.

Here is a summary of the key takeaways from the session:

Difference between an advisor and a board member

  • Advisory work: helping day-to-day and in the details of the company’s work and needs
  • Board work: Oversight. Board members allow you to think bigger. In Jocelyn’s words, board members are at a “different altitude than an advisor” which is harder to be at if you deal with the daily challenges at the company.

When to establish a board as a founder

As a founder, it is a good idea to put a board in place as soon as possible. Doing so makes it easier to get the voices that you want, early and all along the way, before there are more opinions from investors and other stakeholders who may have a specific lens. Remember that independent board directors come with a long-term view.

How to think about board representation from investors

When looking at investment from a firm, find out who will take the board seat, and perhaps even backchannel with the ones you want. At the end of the day, you are looking for their guidance and commitment beyond the check and it is important to build a relationship with them.

Beware of investors on “18 boards”, as they won’t have time for you. Consider having them take an observer seat and have someone else take the seat.

Getting board qualified

Don’t let imposter syndrome get the best of you but recognize that it is real. Jocelyn reminded the group that women apply for jobs if they feel 100% qualified versus 60% for men, and that it is hard to feel qualified for a board if you have never been a board member. It comes down to this: Can you guide a CEO and do you have expertise to share? Most likely you are qualified.

Interested in joining a board? Put yourself out there

Board seats are seldom advertised. Board opportunities live in whisper networks and the majority of companies choose board members through personal networks (some use executive recruiters or paid directories).

A few tips:

  • Work with Jocelyn’s organization, HimForHer
  • Write down the names of every CEO, Board Member and Investor that you know personally and let them know about your interest in getting on a board. Highlight what you bring to the board.

Wondering what size and stage of a company to target based on experience? Consider these:

  • What do you want to learn about and where you want to have impact?
  • What gets you excited? Earlier stage companies?
  • Jocelyn shared that only 1% of companies are public so could be a rare opportunity

Interviewing for a board position

Board interviews are not like job interviews for executive positions. Some tips:

  • Position yourself less with what you have done and more with what you bring
  • Show up to the interview like a board member with curiosity about the business and sophisticated questions. Asking sophisticated questions is part of being a board director
  • Make sure that you understand the industry the company operates in
  • Spend time with the CEO and the rest of the board. Ask about the board culture, ideally from each member separately. Look out for transparency within the board, with the CEO, and with the rest of the company
  • Ask about the urgency of the process — most board searches move more slowly than the typical hiring process

Getting your current company to buy in on your interest in board membership

  • Don’t be afraid to ask
  • Being on a board makes you a better operator; CEOs should encourage executives to do this
  • Check if your CEO serves on other boards and if not, find out why
  • As part of your negotiations when you join a company, be transparent about your interest in joining boards to set expectations upfront
  • If you find an opportunity and are unsure about conflicts, check in with your company

We will wrap up this summary of the session by highlighting an important point raised by Jocelyn: A board is not a team or a group but an ecosystem, which means there is a wide array of skill sets that are needed, and indicating that there is still a large window of opportunity for women to join boards.

Tweet us and share any other nuggets or experiences related to demystifying the boardroom.

HimForHer aims to “bridge the gap between board opportunities and talented women ready for board service”. Through their warm introductions, Jocelyn and the HimForHer team work to address the lack of board networking opportunities women face, since there is not a shortage of women in the pipeline but rather a lack of women in the networks that source most board directors.

Check out HimForHer to learn more about the work that Jocelyn and the team at HimForHer are doing and sign up to either post open board opportunities or join their network!

January Ventures (previously known as Jane VC) invests early and opens doors for the visionary founders of the future.

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