On March 18, the Women Attorneys Group hosted a virtual program that focused on board service including the role, responsibilities, and compensation of board members. Moderated by Lisa Warren, Managing Partner at Morse, the panel included Ellen Richstone, Public Company Board Director, Sarah Feingold, Co- Founder of The Fourth Floor, Rebecca Liebman, Co-Founder and CEO of LearnLux and Victoria Elman, General Counsel at Catalant Technologies. Here are some highlights from our panel:
How did you come to serve on your first board?
Rebecca Liebman – The first board I joined was my own company, LearnLux. Now I’m on 5-6 other boards, but it all stemmed from the original experience on my company’s board.
Sarah Feingold – I had a career in general counsel, so I was on the boards of the companies that I worked for. From there, I realized I wanted to be on boards of smaller companies so I could help them grow. I came to be on the board of ChloeCapital after doing some advisory work for them which gave me the chance to get to know them and understand how I could be of value to them.
Ellen Richstone – I joined my first public company board in 2003. They were looking for someone who was comfortable in the technology industry and who had global M&A experience which I had from my previous role as CFO. It was completely network driven, 90% on the boards I’ve been on have been through my network.
What are the things you wish you had known on the first day?
Rebecca Liebman – Interacting with the board prior to joining is very important. Understanding how they work, what the culture is like, what the people are like, the style of the company. Similar to companies, each board has a different style and it’s good to realize that ahead of time.
Victoria Elman – Boards are vastly different in terms of how they interact. One big difference is that some boards only show the positive aspects of the company; the management team wants to project strength and broadcast that everything is under control. Then there are other boards that look to the board members for help and advice. They use board members’ expertise to help solve company problems. Then there’s a lot of grey area in the middle. So, you must know what you’re getting into and figure out what environment you’d want to be a part of.
To be a successful fisherman, go where the fish are. So where are the fish?
Ellen Richstone – If you want a seat on a public company board, the places I think of are:
- National Association of Corporate Boards
- Women Corporate Directors – but you won’t be able to get into it until you’re sitting on your first public board
- American College of Directors
- Council of Urban Professionals – A Seat at the Table Initiative
- The Boston Club – they do a marvelous job with their resource committee; getting women onto private and public corporate boards
Assuming that one is a candidate for a Board position, what are the factors to consider in evaluating whether the position is a good fit, including liability considerations and mitigations?
Ellen Richstone –Evaluate your own needs and what you’re willing to do in order to be successful in this world. Understand the time commitment. What do they really want from you? Ask yourself all the questions about fit and culture, and where your value fits on the board.
Victoria Elman – From a legal perspective, you need to understand the actual responsibilities of a board member and the potential liabilities. As a board observer or consultant, you go to board meetings, you listen in, but you don’t have a vote. As a board member – signing on to specific fiduciary duties under law – you need to know what kind of entity you’re signing onto. You must ask yourself, does the certificate of corporation protect you? Is there an indemnification agreement? Do your due diligence!
Other Key Takeaways:
“For what it’s worth, even if you’re only being considered for your gender, you’re still at the table and you still get to have influence on the board, still get to have a voice – still a stepping stone.” – Sarah Feingold
“You have to advocate, if you’re on a board with people who don’t get it, don’t understand, you need to be vocal and pound the table and advocate for an additional skillset.” – Ellen Richstone
“As a woman, advocate for other women to join your board; let’s not forget about the power of women helping other women.” – Lisa Warren
Be sure to keep an eye on our events page for future events!