11/18/2013 12:32 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Want to Break Through That Boardroom Glass Ceiling? Simple Tips for Women Here

As corporations around the world compete for market share, ideas and talent, it has become clear that women leaders are essential to business success and that the impact they can make extends not just to leadership, but also to boards. Women bring a different perspective in terms of diversity of thought and experience, and are passionate about making a contribution and adding value from the start. In fact, if you're anything like me, by now you're probably asking, "Where do I sign up?"

I've found that if you're a woman interested in joining a board, growing your expertise or expanding the range of boards on which you sit, there are a number of considerations you should weigh to be as effective as possible. With that in mind, I'd like to share some tips based on my experience as a board member of not-for-profits and boards within RBC to help you get started.

1. Understand the responsibility and determine a focus

First and foremost, you need to focus on what you value, and on what interests you. For example, I started with not-for-profit organizations and focused on what I was passionate about - children, education, the fight against cancer and diabetes - and then used my own network to find organizations which fit my interests.

I do think it's worth stressing the importance of passion and understanding what you are signing up for. Often, these boards can take up a lot of your time, given that non-profit management teams tend to be small and as such, must leverage the skills, connections and resources of their board members. You want and need to be committed to ensure a win-win for both you and the organization.

2. Leverage or develop your network

In looking for a board seat, developing and understanding how to make the most of your personal and business connections is critical. For example, when I was exploring opportunities, I leveraged a speaking engagement at the North Carolina State University into a seat on its business school's advisory board. I kept in touch with the dean of the school, reaching out to him occasionally for educational expertise, and that contact eventually led to the board appointment. I proved I could add value, I created a relationship and when the need arose, I made myself available.

3. Ensure you have support

Another important factor, and definitely a huge part of my being able to be on boards, is my employer. I am fortunate to work for an organization that encourages this, and I've been able to effectively balance my job and my board responsibilities as a result. RBC has been a consistent leader among our peers in the representation of women executives and extends not just to our leadership, but the Board of Directors too. In fact, RBC was an early signatory to the Catalyst Accord, where we made a voluntary pledge to aim for 25% women on the board. Today, women account for 29% of the RBC Board of Directors.

4. Be thorough in your due diligence

Just like in any business deal, doing your homework before you sign up is critical. You want to be very knowledgeable about the boards you join. Who sits on the board? What are the company's or entity's strengths? What about problems and issues? You do need to consider liability coverage and consider what risks you may be taking on. Shareholder and consumer activism is only increasing, so do not take a board seat lightly.

5. Build your skills

Just getting onto a board shouldn't be a goal in and of itself. Once you've joined, make sure to explore the various committees and join one. Ultimately, you may want to ask to chair a committee. This enables you to build governance experience and can bring you into an executive committee of the organization, where you'll be able to further develop your leadership and strategic counsel skills.

Many women have told me that holding a board seat has not only enabled them to contribute to the success of that organization but also to grow their own skills and prepare them for more senior roles. It has honed their business skills and made them more strategic and broadened their horizons and thinking -- so don't wait, and get going!


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