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Commentary: How women can get a seat at ‘the table’

Like any other endeavor, securing a seat on a corporate board is a journey. And in the words of Lao Tzu, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” But what specific steps should women take?

When it comes to getting on a board, there are written and unwritten rules that women need to anticipate and obstacles they need to overcome. We’ve compiled our top 10 tips to give women the information and encouragement they need to successfully land a seat at the directors’ table.

Before we get started, however, let’s take a moment to discuss why this is such an important issue.

Currently, businesses are operating in a volatile global marketplace amid increasing regulations, disruptive technologies, and economic and political uncertainty. In the face of such challenges, boards are under immense pressure to ensure the appropriate governance and management of the organization and top companies realize that having diverse board members is a critical component.

In the United States, women hold 19.2 percent of S&P board seats, according to a 2015 census by Catalyst, a nonprofit group that works to promote women in business and leadership. Based on these numbers, we see opportunities for women on boards going forward.

So, what leadership qualities are needed for effective board service? Like all leaders, board members should have functional expertise, integrity and business acumen, be curious and open-minded, think strategically, be versed in problem-solving and crisis management and be able to adapt gracefully to any situation. In our view, these are the key qualities that women embody.

What steps can you take to make yourself board-ready? Following are our top 10 tips for board readiness, which are drawn from our own board experience and also from Nancy’s new book, “Women on Board: Insider Secrets to Getting on a Board and Succeeding as a Director.”

No. 1: Don’t be shy. Self-promotion is a key quality for the board-ambitious; put your ideas out in the open and make your name known. To gain visibility, write articles, speak at conferences and network with people who can promote your interests. Develop a two-minute “elevator pitch” showcasing your skills and experience.

No. 2: Develop a list of 10 companies whose board you would like to join. Get to know the board members through online research and networking

No. 3: Alert everyone you know that you are looking for board positions at specific companies and/or in certain industries.

No. 4: Become a board member at a not-for-profit organization, but only if you believe in its cause. Once on the board, work hard, be engaged and join a committee.

No. 5: Be patient as you start the formal search: on average, it takes more than two years to be selected as a board director, and your first board position is the hardest to secure. Be realistic. A Fortune 100 company isn’t likely to be your first board, unless you are the CEO of another Fortune 100 company. Small, for-profit companies and advisory boards are great starting places.

No. 6: Evaluate your presentation skills, expertise and ambitions. Interviewing for a director’s position is about showing how well you’d fit into the board’s culture. Enhance your resume and write a “board bio” using leadership language.

No. 7: Understand the skills most valued by boards, chiefly past experience as a CEO, CFO or CPA; experience in BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations; expertise in cloud, analytics, mobility and/or social media; other technology experience, such as data security.

No. 8: Nurture the quality of curiosity. Be a lifetime learner, eager to expand your knowledge and gain insights.

No. 9: Increase your “cultural quotient” or “CQ.” As our world shrinks and as businesses are forced to think globally, CQ matters.

No. 10: Extend your reach and cast your net wide. Networking to increase visibility will help you “get on the radar for a board position.”

Nancy Calderon is a global lead partner at accounting firm KPMG LLP, where she overseas 500 partners and professionals in more than 50 countries, and a board member of KPMG’s Global Delivery Center in India. She also serves on the Women Corporate Directors’ Advisory Board and as vice president of the Greater New York YMCA Board. Jackie Daylor is the partner in charge of the Northern Heartland audit business unit of KPMG LLP and serves on the firm’s Women’s Advisory Board, on the board of directors of the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities, and the executive committee of the Minnesota chapter of Women Corporate Directors. Any advice and viewpoints expressed in the column are those of the authors. A version of this column originally appeared in Finance & Commerce (Minneapolis), sister publication to The Daily Record.