Board Opportunities in 2021 and Beyond: Tips on How to Get Invited to Serve on a Board

Publications/News & Insights/Blog/Board Opportunities in 2021 and Beyond: Tips on How to Get Invited to Serve on a Board

Do You Know The Landscape?

There was a significant shift in how corporate boards thought about adding new members in 2020. In the Fortune 500, 425 seats were filled, and there was a notable leap in representation of Black directors (28 percent) up from 10 percent in previous years. There were several factors that have influenced this market change.

  • Boards were increasingly expected to address topics as wide-ranging as community responsibility, sustainability, diversity, equity, inclusion, remote working, and crisis management forced boards to operate differently.
  • Organizations had to work to comply with regulatory diversity mandates and respond to investor demands for advancing board diversity.
  • Boards continue to look beyond the trend of CEOs/CFOs and are open to active executives with experience in financial services, risk/compliance, cyber security, international business, digital or social media, sustainability, and diversity and inclusion.
  • Boards added people with experience in other areas of the C-suite as well as people who have run profit and loss but not had the CEO title. Boards have been open to new directors at divisional/ regional CEO, military, government, and academia, also managing directors or partners in financial and professional services.

What Type of Boards Should I Consider?

  • Start-up/Growth Company – investors, different risk profile, significant time commitment.
  • Private Company – family-owned, operating executives, unique dynamics and governance structure.
  • Public Company – preparation for Fortune 500 boards, reputation is important.
  • Not-for-Profit – personal interest and passion, evaluate the composition of the board, different types/sizes.
  • Fortune Company – high-profile, time-consuming, board composition strong, likely not your starting point. It is encouraging to see a significant increase in Black directors and the trend will continue and expand. We expect boards to add more expertise with executives in technology, human resources, capital allocation, and continue to build a wide range of commercial experience.

How Do I Get the Right Visibility to Be Considered for a Board Director Seat?

Get the right experience – seek out experiences that provide both depth and breadth of perspective and responsibilities.

  • Raise your profile – speak at conferences, play an active role in industry associations, become an author, be present on online professional networks, create blogs or podcasts, and become a thought leader.
  • Get educated – attend programs (e.g., National Association of Corporate Directors, ELC Corporate Board Initiative, Heidrick & Struggles Board Institute, Stanford and Harvard’s Directors College, The Leverage Network, etc.) aimed at improving your ability to contribute meaningfully to corporate oversight activities and become a valuable director.
  • Look beyond the Fortune 500 – join a smaller public company board or private board or seek out a seat on a non-profit board or a business school/university advisory council. Don’t assume that Fortune 500 are the only boards where you can make an impact.
  • Be proactive about networking – make the “net-work” by developing relationships that provide guidance and visibility and participate in both formal and informal networks.

Five Tips for Positioning Yourself for a Board (Remember you must be invited to join a board.)

  • Assess your readiness for board service – examine your leadership experience and specific expertise.
  • Don’t rely solely on self-assessment – get advice on strategy and your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Approach your board search as you would a job search – do your due diligence, develop a board resume, develop a list of contacts related to board governance.
  • Develop your elevator pitch – what do you have to offer a Board? How do you tell your story?
  • Get preliminary experience on a non-profit board – many of these organizations exercise governance with the same rigor that major public companies do.

Billy Dexter/Partner, Heidrick & Struggles, Global Executive Search. Data and Statistics provided by Heidrick & Struggles 2021 Board Monitor Report: see full report at

Stay Informed

Join our mailing list for updates about how the ELC is building an inclusive business leadership pipeline.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.