How More Women Can Serve on Corporate Boards

This interview was originally published by The Guild, a face-to-face networking platform for women, on Medium.

In our series of interviews with some of this year’s SERENDIPITY hosts, we met with Olga V. Mack, who teaches you how to successfully serve as a corporate board member, advice on switching careers, and the importance of advocating for others.

Olga V. Mack is a blockchain strategist, public speaker, and adjunct professor at Berkeley Law. She is Vice President of Strategy at Quantstamp, the first decentralized security auditing blockchain platform. Most recently, she served as General Counsel at ClearSlide and she has held various roles at Visa, Zoosk, Pacific Art League, Wilson Sonsini, and Yahoo. Olga founded the Women Serve on Boards movement that advocates for women to serve on the corporate boards of Fortune 500 companies. You can follow her on Twitter @olgavmack.

What motivated you to create Women Serve on Boards?

I founded Women Serve on Boards because we need to stop resigning ourselves to waiting another 40 to 100 years for parity on boards. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Equilar Gender Diversity Index (GDI), it will take 40 to 100 years to reach parity on American corporate boards. At this rate, there’s no way we’ll see it happen within our career years — and there’s only a very slim chance that we’ll see it within our lifetime. And even with the most generous estimates, our young daughters would be well into their careers by the time parity is achieved. So, I had to do something about it!

Since then I have influenced numerous Fortune 500 companies to find their first and sometimes second woman directors, influenced and written numerous board parity-related legislations, and written All [A]Board: Your Journey to Becoming a Corporate Director to demystify the board journey for all professionals, especially women.

Companies should actively recruit women to serve on their boards of directors and individuals should suggest qualified women, vote with their wallets, and demand change. This isn’t an astronomical event that requires the stars to align perfectly in order to happen.

It is real progress that will benefit both companies and society as a whole.

As long as we act now and together, we can get there sooner, much, much sooner.

What are your top three keys to success for serving as a board member?

Getting a position on a corporate board is a matter of time, research, and skill matching. To land a board position, you must articulate your value proposition through these steps:

Concentrate on your board resume and board biography. Develop your board documents — your board resume and board biography — to jumpstart your corporate board of directors journey.

Define your elevator pitch. Because an elevator pitch is relatively short, you must be very selective in what you include and exclude. And of course, practice delivering your new elevator pitch! Delivering the pitch out loud can help you identify any changes you need to make.

Network intentionally. Aim to meet board members, CEOs, chairpersons, and other professionals who are connected with a company’s board such as attorneys, accountants, consultants, cybersecurity experts, and numerous others. Be clear and specific — ask to be connected to with the companies that you think match perfectly with your value.

You’ve switched careers in your life. What advice would you give to your younger self?

For every career change I’ve made, I’ve had to enter a new industry or type of position. This means I’ve had to get hired based on my potential, not my accomplishments. I’ve found a few ways to do this:

Look for tight labor markets, where employers tend to be more open-minded and focus on an applicant’s overall potential. Also identify organizations with strong and unique learning requirements, either because the industry is complex, their product is unique, or their leaders are unorthodox. Demonstrate that you have been following the business and will do the work to keep up.

Position yourself as an open-minded newcomer that can consider creative approaches that experts will miss. Make sure all your communications align with the organization’s unique core values. You want to build a case that you will remain motivated and committed to actually applying your potential long-term, and that you will be a natural fit on day one.

Articulate why you enjoy learning and how it aligns with you and your career goals. Demonstrate that you are responsible for teaching yourself and share your plan to learn missing skills or knowledge and discuss what you have done so far to get there.

Finally, prepare a repertoire of stories that showcase your acumen, strong interest, and potential for a desired job or industry interest. In preparation for the interviews and in all your communications, prepare three to seven stories that showcase your potential. Consider identifying the actual value of previous experiences. A well-prepared story that explicitly highlights your relevant commitment and lessons learned is the best way to establish that you have what it takes to do a job you never done before. Preparation is the key because it is very hard to come up with relevant and well-articulated examples when you’re put on the spot!

As someone who is an advocate for professional women, what is your best career advice for women trying take the next step in their careers?

Advocating for others is a win-win for everyone.

Not only do you make an impact and improve the world around you, you also build amazing relationships, improve your life satisfaction, and become a leader in the process. Advocacy, just like leadership, EQ, financial acumen, and prioritization skills are essential business and life skills that must be taught early and often. If implemented consistently throughout your career I am certain that all professionals, including women, will optimize their impact, career goals, and life satisfaction.

Wildcard: What was your first job?

I tutored Autistic children for 5 years starting in my freshman year in high school. I focused on teaching both academic and life skills. I found this job highly rewarding and satisfying because it helped me realize that small adjustments can make a huge difference in everyone’s life. I also learned to be empathetic and appreciate that our differences make us stronger. I use these skills daily, years later.

What can attendees at the Leadership House expect to see at your SERENDIPITY session this year?

Expect to learn more about corporate boards and board service, including all the less commonly discussed aspects such as risks and alternatives. Also expect to be equipped with the concrete steps you can take today to start your journey to a board of directors position. You’ll walk away inspired and empowered to make your board service dream a reality. The session will also be a great opportunity to network with other professionals seeking a board of directors position.

What is your ASK for the GUILD community?

Ask yourself regularly: “What do I do to improve our community and the world?”

Asking myself this question led me to found the Women Serve on Boardsmovement and convince numerous 500 companies to recruit their first women directors. Asking myself this question also led me to write All [A]Board: Your Journey to Becoming a Corporate Director, be appointed to the California Law Revision Commission by the governor, and harness numerous opportunities to speak about board service, author California legislations, and widen my network of amazing professionals.

SEPARATE Question:

What is your favorite quote?

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

― Theodore Roosevelt