When one starts having similar conversations at different meetings, its time to draw a theme, sit back and reflect as to what may really be going on.
I've had a few recent conversations with individuals (all men) looking to staff their boards with a woman director. They often want a recommendation. As we progress through the conversation, we usually hit a point where I hear -" you know we would really like someone with "pedigree"". When I probe deeper into what they mean by pedigree , its often about someone with a "brand name", someone visible, seen in public and can makes heads turn (yes, pun intended). I always want to ask , so are the men on the board all pedigree? But hold myself back.
Here is what I actually say
1. There are typically three types of women leaders you will often see in the public limelight. Women who have built billion dollar empires (Zhang Xin in China), either on their own or family run. Second, CEO's of organisations who are given the mandate of being the media spokesperson ( Chanda Kocchar in India) and third, someone who has written a best seller ( Sheryl Sandberg in the US). So are you looking for reflected glory , or something else?
2. While having a woman on the board is a decision I totally support, I would like you to look a step further and look deeper at what the board really needs. The board is a team of people who bring in different skills to achieve a certain objective. Does this person bring in an unique skill to the table that is needed by the organisation? Example: Cybersecurity, Sustainability, Mergers and Aquisitions or Social Media.
3. It is also about chemistry. Bringing in someone who is in the headline news every other day may not be someone who "fits" with your company culture, purpose and values. You need someone for the long haul, who will support and help the organisation grow.
Now do you still need pedigree?
ped·i·gree noun \ˈpe-də-ˌgrē\: Webster
the history of the family members in a person's or animal's past especially when it is good or impressive
the origin and history of something especially when it is good or impressive
Kalpana Sinha is a Leadership and Organisation Professional. Her blog has reflections from her work experiences of over 20 years.