The Problem with Board Appointments: why do you not Apply?

We know this, but we keep pushing the lie – the lie that the problem with getting a board appointment lies with your confidence in your ability to do the job. There is a completely different problem and when you understand this, you will not wait another day to start applying.

board appointments

The Research that had not been Researched

In 2014, when the book The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know was published, many articles were written about the reason why fewer women than men applied for senior executive roles. In one article after another, reference was made to a comment made by one of Hewlett-Packard’s senior executives:

Women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.

What many do not know, is that this statistic was not based on authoritative research, but rather a mere comment made by an executive, that was then published in an internal report. A belief was formed around this but further research proved it to be wrong.

It is not only Women who are not Applying

In a survey published in the Harvard Business Review, in the case of both men and women, it was not a lack of confidence that drove them not to apply. Although they believed that they could do the job, most people did not apply because they did not think that they had the right qualifications and did not want to waste the time and energy to go through the application process.

Now here comes the most interesting statistic: 46,4% of men did not think they were qualified, while only 40,6% of women held the same view. So ladies, the men are even more off track on this than we are!

Now for the caveat, while more men did not want to waste their energy, believing that they were not qualified, more women than men reported not applying because they did not want to fail. When it came to a fear of failure, 21,6% of women reported this to be the reason that they did not apply, as opposed to 12,7% of men. That is an enormous difference. To make matters worse, they were not afraid of failing at the job, they were afraid of failing at the appointment process.

Below is a graph showing the full set of results:

Research published Harvard Business Review August 2014

Why are you not applying for a board appointment?

Although the research was done regarding promotions and executive roles, you will get similar results when applying it to board roles. When you look at the reasons given for not applying for a board role, it is clear that not thinking you are qualified enough, reigns supreme. Only 9,7% of women and 12,4% of men thought that they could not do a good job. If you know that you can do the job, why are you not applying?

What should you do when you don’t deem yourself qualified?

Looking at the results, it is clear that it is the belief that they are not qualified enough that withholds most possible applicants from applying. When you look at an advertisement for a board role and they are asking for a certain qualification that you do not have, don’t simply throw the advertisement aside. Of course, if they ask for someone with specific legal qualifications and expertise and you have none, you don’t just grab your CV and apply. Before you decide whether you should apply or not, look a little bit deeper.

You need to weigh all the requirements for the role. If contact information was provided, contact the advertiser or recruiter to glean a better understanding of exactly what it is that they require. If they ask for an LLB and you do not have one but have a strong legal background due to your work experience, then motivate it that way. Don’t convince yourself that you should not apply; find a way to show them why you would be the right person for the role, despite your lack of certain qualifications.

There is a fear of failure, not in serving on a board but in the application process itself, and even more so in men than in women, that lets some not continue on the road to a board appointment. Don’t let fear hold you back.

Do you want a board appointment? Do not be afraid to fail!

Gaining a board appointment is a long and arduous process and you may hear many no’s before you finally hear a yes. Yet, it is worth your while to keep going.

churchill success not final failure not fatal courage to continue

Almost every day, I find those who are afraid to throw their hat in the ring for a board appointment. They would rather wait until someone taps them on the shoulder to take a board role. This is not a good tactic if you are serious about a board career. You may wait forever.

Many of our clients have reported that they get tired of waiting for an appointment, even when we do all the work to get them appointed. However, if you do not apply, the appointment will never happen.

Winston Churchill famously said: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

That is what you need to do. You have to have the courage to continue, even in the face of failure. Every no brings you closer to that yes. And when success comes, it is so worth it.

If you are looking to get a board appointment, do not let fear hold you back. Whether you are a man or a woman, young or old, the world deserves the benefit of your leadership on a board. Start your appointment process without fear of failure. If you do not know where to start, watch one of our webinars to see exactly what your steps should be, or email to arrange a confidential discussion.

Don’t be afraid, get out there and start applying for a board appointment.

I am a qualified coach and have worked in the board search sector since 2013. In 2021 I took my experience in branding and marketing and combined that with my board search experience to create coaching products that help anyone who wants to become a board member. Connect with me on any of my social media accounts.