Breaking into the boardroom

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After being commissioned to investigate the lack of female board members in British businesses, Lord Davies urged FTSE 350 companies to increase the percentage of women on boards by 25% by the year 2015, or else face government measures. While he didn’t impose quotas, the corporate world has been left wondering how exactly they should meet Lord Davies’ request, without just adding more women to their boards for the sake of it.

Thankfully, Heather Jackson, founder of the Women’s Business Forum (who'll be joining us for a live web chat this Friday 15 April for this week's Lunchtime Masterclass), says that just throwing women into boardrooms isn’t the answer. As an ambassador for getting more females into the boardroom, Heather has some fantastic ideas and initiatives on how this can be done and, interestingly, she says that it starts with women themselves.

Jackson argues that, whilst the effort to get more women into the boardroom should be collaborative and metiocratic, women should understand the why and how of moving up the ladder. Expanding on this point, Jackson uses the term 'the three Cs' - confidence, contacts and capabilities - to illustrate the key characteristics women should possess in order to progress.

Ahead of her Lunchtime Masterclass web chat with us this Friday, we sat down with Heather to explore the three Cs further, and to ask for her expert advice on how to break into the boardroom on your own merit, without the need for reliance on quotas or reactive promotions. Here are here top tips:

1) Aim high

Heather says: “Glass ceilings are there to be smashed through and you must take advantage of the positive feeling towards increasing the number of women on boards. You're not being an opportunist; everyone is finally understanding the value women bring to business, and now is the time to capitalise on that."

2) Diversify your skill sets

Heather says: “If you want to be a board member, you need a variety of skills. Be a sponge; learn from everyone and everything in order to accrue as many as you can along the way. You're a specialist in your field but make sure you can lend your hand to anything.”

3) Understand your value

Heather says: “This is worth its weight in gold. The more you know about yourself, the more you can give to a board, so research yourself like you'd research a piece of work. Discover which skills you already have, which skills you need to develop, and - crucially - what those skills can do for a board. At the Women's Business Forum we use a system built for us a that allows women to profile themselves and understand who they are now, so they’re selling who they are now - not just what's on their old CV.”

4) Network, network, network

Heather says: “This is an absolute no brainer; it's all about who you know. So many women treat networking as a 'nice to have' rather than an essential part of their business. The 'old boys' club' has worked very successfully for many years and we shouldn’t necessarily be knocking it, as there are plenty of statistics that show your first non-executive job is often obtained through a contact or someone you know."

5) Believe in yourself

Heather says: “Growing up my father always told me, "Heather, if you don’t have faith in yourself you can’t expect anyone else to have faith in you." Women can hold themselves back by just expecting people to know what they want in life and their career, or what they’re capable of doing when actually you’ve got to go out and do it."

For more information on Heather's work on helping women break into the boardroom, visit

Are you struggling to break through the glass ceiling, or do you aspire to do so? Or perhaps you're a women that's already made it to board level? Share your experiences of being a woman at work in the comments section below.

Picture credit: Rex Features