Why Helping Men to Understand the Benefits of a Diverse Board of Directors will Help to Get More Women into Board Seats

At our annual marketing conference (Inbound) we had a panel about what it is like to be on a board of directors. In this talk there was a discussion about how to get more women on boards and what it is like to be a woman on a board. 

Who was on the panel?

  • Stacey Bishop of Scale Venture Partners
  • Lorrie Norrington of LeadEdge Capital
  • JD Sherman, HubSpot COO
  • Katie Burke our VP Culture & Experience led the discussion. 

What does a board member actually do and why does a board matter for your company in the first place?

The role of a board member is to focus on the long term interests of the share holders of the company. There was a clear feeling that a board should be interested in the long term vision of the company.

There are 2 things that a  board member does:

1. Company of loyalty– you must put the company first, always.

2. Call of duty of care- you need to be a resonable person and you should be prepared, and thoughtful on the board.

An organization is a living being, it needs input and output. 

The board makeup should consist of people with a set of skills for supplimenting the core team. Your board should always be looking for people with great judgement to help them be better than they are on their own.

There are different kinds of board members. One kind of board member is an investor from the VC that invested in the company. This is an investor board seat. 

  • As part of an investment in a company, a VC often joins a board when you make that investment.
  • Hubspot has 2 women on the board. 🙂
  • Stacey told us that on the other boards she is a member of there are no other women. We are lucky and fortunate to have 2 women on our board at HubSpot.

So, what should you do if you think you would be a valuable person to be on a board of directors?

  • Think about what kinds of companies you would like to be on the board of.
  • You must know what you are good at and why a company might see value in having you advise their company.
  • You want a strong breadth of skills within the board.

If you are looking to join a board at an early stage here are some things that you can do to get there.

  • Be an advisor to a startup and give them advice. That will help you to get exposure to one day become a board member.
  • Figure out exactly what you are REALLY REALLY good at. Advise a company that needs that kind of expertise.
  • You have value in something specific so figure out what that thing is that you are very good at and seek advisor roles in companies that need those things.

What are the characteristics of a great board member:

  • They listen.
  • A board member assimilates great amounts of information.
  • They can look at the situation from many different angles.
  •  They are trying to advise the company to take the right steps for the longer term success of the company.
  • Board members should have a low ego.
  • You should know that being on a board means you are part of a team.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to figure out where you might be valuable.

  1. There are different stages of companies so your board members need to match the stage of the company. For example) I have been working in sales here at HubSpot for 5 years now. I might have value in an early stage startup who is starting to build out their sales team. I could help them understand what that process of hiring BDRs and Sales reps should look like. I could advise them on things that I have done and helped figure out at HubSpot.
  2. Think about the kinds of companies that you like. Why do you like them? What do they have in common? Once you figure that out you should approach those kinds of companies that seem to need skills you have.

Here are some tips for starting to work your way to being on a board or even in becoming an advisor to a comapny.

  • Tell people that you are looking to advise a company or be on a board.
  • Explain to these people why you want to be on a board or why you want to advise a company.
  • Make sure when you tell people this, you tell them what skills you have that you could help a company with.

There are a couple of places that were mentioned as good starting points to look for these kinds of positions.

  • An organization called Catalyst.  You can find them on Twitter here and on LinkedIn here.
  • Recruiters actually seek people for board seats and advisor roles. If you are looking for a role like this you can likely search for them.
  • Make some VC friends and let them know what you are good at. They might have ideas as to companies you could advise.
  • If you see that a VC is trying to invest in a certain space that you have expertise on that could be a good way to reach out to the VC and start a conversation.

Remember that you are good at something. You need to hone in on what that one thing is that you do really, really well. That is what you should be advising a company on.  

Boards can be a good place to gain different perspectives for your company. 

  • When a company starts to mature they need to have different perspectives. A great way to help with that is to make sure that your board is diverse in who sits on it.
  • Diversity can mean experiences of the people on the board, men and female board members of course.
  • You need and should want diverse opinions from your board members.
  • Do not compromise on this one.

Instead of focusing on getting more women on your board what you really should be focusing on is getting great people on your board. Then if that person so happens to be a woman then that is great.

Lorrie said this: “You want a great person on the board who happens to be a woman.” 

At the end of the panel discussion a couple members of the audience asked questions. One woman asked something that we all should have been thinking.


There were probably 5 men in the room and most of them were from HubSpot. 

We need men to care about this issue of getting more women on the board. The only way we can change this is by having more men understand why this issue of getting more women into board seats is important. JD thinks that men should mentor more women to help drive this change. I agree.

What do you think? How do you think we as a whole can work on getting more women into advisor roles and into more board seats? Why do you think men don’t care enough? 

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