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How to think about (non-exec) Board roles

We recently ran a Zoom session on How to think about (non-exec) Board roles, with inputs from Non-Exec Directors (NEDs) on public and private company Boards as well as headhunters specialising in Board appointments with digital skill sets.

It was great to see so many women from different backgrounds on this call - perhaps we'll reach equal representation on UK Boards in our lifetimes after all?!

This blog post is to share the notes from that Zoom - passing on the top advice from these amazing women – hoping to help anyone else thinking about their first NED role...

When are you ready for a Board role?

  • Most headhunters suggest you need a CEO role - or a C-level role at a company with decent scale - to be considered

  • Experience from execs and NEDs on the call said the more senior you become, the more approaches you will get for bigger and bigger roles, so don't be nervous about waiting and concentrating on your exec role for a few more years – you won’t miss out

  • People felt it generally makes sense to be settled in your exec role before you take on a NED role as well, so you’re not doing heavy lifting on both at the same time

  • Many companies consider a NED role to be beneficial experience for their senior execs and experience on the Zoom suggested most companies would be supportive at the right time

  • Ideally, negotiate the option to take a NED role (after 6-12 months) into your contract when you take your next exec role, so you can pursue with full support of your company

  • Be aware that a Board role is a responsibility. You can have personal liability if you don’t do a thorough job and something goes wrong, so make sure you have time to give at least 1-2 days a month for Board meetings and prep (prep can usually be done at weekends)

Getting considered for a Board role when you’re ready

  • Number #1 piece of advice: Craft your elevator pitch - know what skills you bring and what type of Board you want to join - and tell everyone you meet for 6 months; opportunities get shared, recommendations get requested (especially from those who already have NED roles) and you want your name to be top of mind for those being asked

  • Make sure your name (and pitch) is known to the main headhunters in the space

  • Your first Board role is hardest to get – once you have one, you’ll be approached about others

  • LinkedIn is a big searching ground for headhunters so make sure your profile up to date and reflects key skills (you can add to your profile that you are open to Board roles)

  • Experience on the call suggested that charity Board roles, while they can be fulfilling, make little difference to one’s chances of getting a paid / commercial Board role – so the advice was to join a charity Board only if it is stand-alone interesting to you

  • See if you can join your own company’s Board as an observer to get Board level exposure before you apply for NED roles

Number #1 piece of advice: Craft your elevator pitch - know what skills you bring and what type of Board you want to join - and tell everyone you meet for 6 months;

The interview

Be ready for at least these 2 questions: “What do you bring?” and “Why do you want to do a NED role for this company?” These generally get asked by every Chairperson

Deciding whether a Board role you’re interviewing for is right for you

  • Most people on the Zoom call agreed that you can realistically do only one NED role while you are also an exec – so make sure it’s the right one

  • Believe in what the company does - you're expected to join most Boards for a minimum of 3 years - and up to 9 years for a public company. It’s a long commitment if the company doesn’t excite you and align with your values

  • Do your due diligence! Don’t be reticent to ask whatever you need to know – it’s a responsibility (and often a high-profile one)

  • Make sure it works for you logistically and financially – as above, you're joining for 3-9 years

  • Look around at other Board members - if the boat starts to go down, are these people you want to be in the boat with?

  • Only do public company board as first NED role if you're happy that Chair and senior NED are really going to take the time to invest in a first time NED

What should you get paid?

Experience suggests at least £40k but often £60k+, and more if you're on committees; some will pay significantly more but charity Boards will pay less

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