What does it take to get on an entrepreneurial board or onto the board of a company in the formative stages? Chances are, if a woman is qualified, she knows what to do. She has to be either the entrepreneur or the investor.
Should that discourage women from learning how they could become candidates at the formative stages of governance? Sometimes, it seems as if women who made it to the private boardroom as investors are discouraging others from following in their footsteps -- "in reality, it is not entirely practical to get on a formative board" may have described the past, but does it describe the next ten years or twenty years?
Historically, one of the major paths into the boardroom, for men, has always been as an expert advisor to formative, entrepreneurial, young, small businesses. The way men became proficient in board service was to become proficient in new business formation and ongoing technical support -- SCORE, Tech Coast Angels, Pasadena Angels, plus all of the
Silicon Valley angel and venture capitalists. That is WHERE boards are formed.
The typical pattern is this: when a founder is starting a business, he or she might seek out someone who has an important expertise, such as the former executive of a major company in the target customer industry sector, a successful entrepreneur in the space, or someone with key technical expertise.
Even with entrepreneurs who have successfully exited their company and want to get involved with another start-up, they do not go out and simply find a start-up board on which to serve. More likely they are invited in either because of their expertise or their investment.
Yes, in the past, women were not as actively involved as investors as they are today. Now, look at Cindy Padnos, Renee LaBran, Lauren Leichtman, Leslie Myers Frécon, Debi Coleman, Kathleen A. Cote and other women directors covered in my book, Outstanding in their Field. Then look at Kay Koplovitch, Amy Millman, Laura Roden, Myra Hart and their like in my latest book, Women Leaders at Work.
Yes, in the past, women were not as actively involved in creating investable businesses as they are today. Now, look at my posting late last year, summarizing some of the incredible entrepreneurial funding tracked by Alice Krause at NewsOnWomen.com: http://championboards.blogspot.com/2011/12/what-do-these-firms-have-in-common.html
These new businesses create new board opportunities for women business experts -- just as they tapped men business experts in the past. These new ventures offer investment opportunities for women capitalists as much as men.
As I said in my snapshot of women added to boards in January 2012:
"Women Entrepreneurs: In addition to the ever-increasing number of new women directors, women are forming their own entrepreneurial businesses and accessing angel and venture capital in increasing numbers. Alice Krause's NewsOnWomen.com reported that 10 women-owned/co-owned businesses received seed, A series or C series funding totaling $46.8 Million in January 2012. The high was $14 Million to Jesse Lee's Polyvore - the web’s largest online fashion community. The smallest was $1.8 Million for Beatrice Pang et al.'s Modewalk luxury goods shopping site. Seven of the ten received seed or series A funding. Seven of the companies were based in
California, and one each in New York, Illinois, and . Pennsylvania
These are the women building businesses and boards of the future."
This is EXACTLY what we ought to be teaching women who might be interested in boards. Don’t simply focus on the F500 companies. Look at all of the entrepreneurial businesses being created in your market sector and in your market area. Are they viable? If not, what are you doing to help them succeed? What ones require your expertise as an advisor? As an investor? As a director? (Unless you only want to give away your time to nonprofits, that is.)
Otherwise, women are simply waiting like wallflowers on the side of the ballroom for the Prince to come and invite them to the “boardroom ball”. Or worse, they're waiting for the King to change the rules with quotas in an effort to make the Prince invite them to the dance.
If women are getting 60% of the degrees, whether in law, medicine, business, STEM, or whatever, then they too have a responsibility to be building the next generation of businesses -- from the inside out, from the bottom up, and from the top (the board) down.