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Women who want to serve on boards need competence--and connections.

Being elected to a corporate board of directors is simple: You need to know the right people. It's all about the Old Boys' Network and, to some extent in recent years, the Old Girls' Network.


Certainly, a woman needs to be competent, respected and have the necessary skills, just as a man does. But without the right connections she will never be considered.

My first corporate board positions were as an inside director on boards of banks owned by the holding company where I was an officer. Because I was the newest/youngest/least experienced member of the team, I was appointed to the boards of three of our smallest banks. Invariably, I was the only woman on the board.

In the five years I filled those board seats, I gained valuable experience about how boards work. One important lesson was that, although you may argue your point in the privacy of the boardroom, when a decision is made and you leave that room, you support the board's decision or you leave the board.

My first outside director position came through the recommendation of an officer with whom I had worked at the bank. A company headquartered in Denver had decided it was time to have a director or two who weren't middle-aged white males. I'll never forget my interview with the chairman of the board. Every 50 minutes he said to me and the other woman who was being interviewed, "Now, let's take a break so you can go powder your nose." I don't know if he had instructions from his wife about how to handle a potential woman director, it was clear he was extremely uncomfortable.

That's one of the reasons there are still so few women on corporate boards--we held only 14.6 percent of the positions on Fortune 500 boards in 2006, down slightly from 2005. The board chair and directors who form the board nominating committee are invariably white men, and they unthinkingly gravitate toward people like themselves. It takes a conscious decision to look beyond their immediate circle.

Fortunately, I came along at a time when those conscious decisions were being made. The late 1980s and early 1990s were a time when boards were actively seeking women and minorities. I was a woman in the right place--a visible position with a big Colorado company--at the right time, with the right connections.

The fact I was competent, well known and easy to work with was a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the job. The sufficient condition was that someone on the board suggested I be considered.

I've worked with women's organizations to collect resumes of potential board candidates and make them available to companies looking for a new board member. If that alone ever led to a woman being nominated, I'm not aware of it.

In the 1980s, two women who called themselves The Velvet Fist would sit down with a male friend they knew who headed a Colorado company and say, "John, I've noticed you don't have a woman on your board of directors." Invariably, John would respond, "I'd love to if there were just a qualified woman available."

They would then whip out a few resumes of women they knew, give them to him and say, "Here, this is just the sort of person you're looking for." It worked, leading to some of the first board positions for women in Colorado and the beginning of the Old Girls' Network.

Women are always advised to seek positions on nonprofit boards as a path to paid board positions. But if you have so few contacts and so little relevant experience that you need that route to meet people, you probably aren't corporate board material

I've served on the boards of commercial and farm credit banks, an insurance company, a manufactured housing company, a huge public utility, a fuel cell company, a real estate management firm, a buyout fund, an investment advisory firm and a group of mutual funds. The public utility and the mutual funds came through the Old Girls' Network, the rest because I was recommended by men on those boards who had worked with me.

Women who want corporate board positions need to be senior members of their company, have the skills for which boards are searching--financial management, marketing or technology, for example--and know the right people who are already serving on corporate boards.

Right or wrong, that's the way it happens.

Tucker Hart Adams, president of the Adams Group, has issued annual economic forecasts about Colorado for 30 years and will begin a monthly column for ColoradoBiz in January. Adams will participate in a "Women on Boards" panel discussion in Denver on Nov. 7. Visit or call (952) 400-0198 for more information.
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Title Annotation:GUEST COLUMN
Comment:Women who want to serve on boards need competence--and connections.(GUEST COLUMN)
Author:Adams, Tucker Hart
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2007
Previous Article:Is it better to be a good leader or a good manager? To excel you have to be both.
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