Sheila Ronning, CEO and founder of Women in the Boardroom, speaks with Richard Levick in this transcribed installment of the In House Warrior Podcast.
Speaker 1: Welcome to the Corporate Counsel Business Journal’s daily podcast, ‘In House Warrior’, with host, Richard Levick, chairman of LEVICK, a global crisis and litigation communications firm.
Richard Levick: Good day again. It’s Richard Levick with ‘In House Warrior’, the daily podcast of the Corporate Counsel Business Journal. And with me today is Sheila Ronning. Sheila is the CEO and founder of Women in the Boardroom. Sheila, great to have you with us.
Sheila Ronning: Thank you so much for having me.
Levick: So, you and I have known each other for a number of years. I know you’ve had this organization for nearly 20, helping women get onto corporate boards. Can you talk a little bit about some of the most important things that women can be doing?
Ronning: Yeah, definitely. Well, first of all, they need to realize what they’re qualified for, of course, and go for those boards. If somebody were to come to me and say, “Hey, I want to get on to the Coca-Cola board,” and they haven’t had that experience in that large public company, then it’s likely they’re not going to get on the first board, at least. But, knowing what their skill set is, what their value add is to a board, and knowing what they’re qualified for.
Levick: Tell us, obviously we have an audience of general counsels, why lawyers make great board members. I know that we talked before the show about there’s a lot of mythology out there that they might not, and you’ve been fighting that. So, please do talk about that.
Ronning: Yeah. That is one area that I’ve really… It’s just been that little bur on my saddle over the years, where people will say, “Nobody wants lawyers on their board”. And that’s just simply not true. We’ve even done a couple of different webinars over the years on, first of all, what the stats are that prove how many boards and how there’s been an increase of boards that have had somebody with a JD on their board. But, lawyers, they do have the skill sets that are useful to boards. For example, lawyers are often strategic thinkers that are creative problem solvers. They’re great at due diligence and asking good questions, and they often have a fair amount of business acumen. So, it’s not that they’re going on to the board to be the lawyer.
Levick: Such a great pause there. And whenever you say, “Not going on the board to be the lawyer”, you’re talking about what you need is your business acumen. We need your insights and we need you thinking both as it’s helpful to think lawyer, but we want you to think like a business executive.
Levick: So, how long does it take someone to apply? What’s the process and how much work does it take?
Ronning: Okay. So, we hear all the time that networking is the way to get onto a corporate board. In fact, we know that less than 15% are filled by a search firm. And, even when the search firm is retained by the board, the first thing they do is they turn around to the guys and go, “Hey, what do you know?” So, it’s networking. You have to network and that takes time. But, you need to really know who in your network you should be talking to, what you should be saying to them, how you should be saying it, even when you should be saying it, and also maintaining that relationship.
So, the networking piece can take a while and knowing what your value add is. But, it can take anywhere from… Bottom line is it says it takes anywhere from three to five years to get onto your first corporate board. And we’ve certainly had a lot of our members do it a lot faster than that, but you have to be focused. You have to be dedicated. But, I just… It’s not… Five hours a month is what I say. If you don’t have five hours a month to dedicate to it, then don’t do it.
Levick: And when should you begin to be thinking about it? And when did you perhaps miss your opportunity?
Ronning: Well, great question. That comes up all the time. You know what, I’ve stated that it’s never too early to start. We are not working….Not everybody is qualified to be a VIP member of ours. We have to approve that. They have to be that senior level executive, C-suite person. But, if you’re not there yet, it certainly is not too early to start learning what it would take to become a board member and filling those gaps. Typically, it’s that no more than two levels down from the CEO. And we have a lot of people who join when they’re retired. Now, there’re some companies out there that will say, “Well, we wish you weren’t retired. You’re not current”. Even though I can help them with that, right? What they’re come back can be [inaudible 00:04:25] that. But, there’s also then other companies who say, “Oh, we wish you weren’t employed full time”. So, the right board for you is you just have to find it. It’s there.
Levick: And, do you find that there are limits when maybe it’s too late? You talked about being retired versus working. But, are there times in your career when you think that would have been a great thing, but it’s more challenging now?
Ronning: Well, when it comes to public boards because there are age limits. But, private boards, they typically don’t have them. So, you can definitely do that. And, if somebody comes to me and says they want to serve on a public board, I’ll ask them, “Why public? Are you open to private?” Right? And we’re all about helping those women get onto paid boards. So, it could be private as well. It could be advisory boards.
Levick: In the 30 seconds we have left, what’s the advice you want to share, I know it’s for GCs overall, but for women GCs in particular about what they should be doing next if they want to serve on a board?
Ronning: Great question. So, first and foremost, they really need to get out of their own way. And I say that just because women… And I speak about women, but obviously I’m pretty sure men have some of the same issues. But, I work with women. I am a woman. So, why I’ve said that, it’s just that sometimes we’re wanting to make sure we check every single box before we go for it. Or we’re saying, “Oh gosh, I don’t feel comfortable in talking to my network and asking them to help me”. They don’t like to ask for help.
Levick: So, Sheila Ronning, thank you so much. It’s great to be with you and to see you again. I’m Richard Levick for ‘In House Warrior’, the daily podcast of the Corporate Counsel Business Journal. And we’ll see you tomorrow.
Speaker 1: You’ve been listening to the Corporate Counsel Business Journal’s ‘In House Warrior’ with host, Richard Levick.