One Woman’s Journey into Board Governance – Part 1: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

By Mardi Witzel

I was roughly halfway through the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD) flagship program when a friend shared with me that she had just received her first corporate board appointment. Specifically, she had been invited onto the board of a small publicly listed company and I was thrilled for her. I was also more than a little bit curious, as the whole process of landing a spot on a public board has a faint mystical quality.

“Do you know how it happened?” she volunteered. “A friend of my husbands who owns the company just asked me … after all that, I was literally tapped on the shoulder.’

The after all that was a reference to the amount of energy we were both expending in pursuit of shiny new board posts. We both had university degrees, careers in business and experience on not-for-profit boards. More recently, we had both embarked on myriad governance-specific education. We had each taken the Getting Board Ready Program through Women Get on Board. I had recently completed a certification program in ESG Board Governance through Competent Boards, and completed the first installment in the Council of Canadian Innovators new Innovation Governance Program or iGP. To cap it off, my friend had recently completed, and I was amidst, the ICD-Rotman Director’s Education Program, an eight month and nearly twenty thousand dollar journey. 

This tendency to overprepare is typical of women (I’m told). When approaching applications for a job or board position, we tend to focus on what we don’t bring to the table whereas men will focus on what they do. We scurry about and try to plug the holes, lest we should bring our mortal imperfections to the table. So the vexing irony of my girlfriend’s tap on the shoulder, was that after all that experience and preparation, it was still the network that delivered her first posting, with its mystical and frankly patriarchal quality.

If you’re reading this article then you’re probably somewhere on your own journey to secure a board position. This series is a light expression of my personal journey in governance. Full disclosure – I do not sit on any big (actually any) publicly listed boards today. I have two decades of not-for-profit board governance under my belt including appointments as a Board Chair and service on all the usual standing committees. I’ve served as the Chair of a provincial advisory group and this year I was invited to sit as a board member for a small, private technology company, a start-up. But to date I have not served on a public company board, perhaps as much because I haven’t applied, as because my narrow but well-prepared shoulders have never been tapped.

The truth is my journey for a bright and shiny public board has devolved into a scene from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – without the lying, the cheating or the slavery. In other words, I got distracted. Today I find myself more steeped in Governance than ever despite not sitting on a pubco board. I work in AI Governance with, sit on the board and provide strategic advice to PolyML Inc, a tech start-up in Waterloo and I write on ESG and AI Governance. In addition I serve as a Public Representative on the Council of CPA Ontario. One Woman’s Journey into Board Governance, is an effort to package my insights in a way that will be both useful and – possibly – entertaining. I hope that my experience, in particular with frontier governance topics like ESG and AI, will lend something to your own journey. Series Topics; Landing my first board role (subtitled ‘how little I knew’); Maturing in a not-for-profit organization; Committees and board executive roles as a source of personal development; Becoming a Board Chair; Choosing from the disszing array of board governance programs;Seeking corporate board position – a great piece of advice; My first for-profit board appointment; Governance knowledge as an evergreen quest.

Published by Governance Boutique

We support women in their quest to land a board position. The Governance Boutique was created to provide board document writing and interviewing services to aspiring and serving directors. We aim to advance women’s representation at the boardroom table.

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