You would think Meg Whitman is the only female leader in the free world. She was the CEO of eBay, ran for governor of California, and now HP has tapped her to become its CEO savior; even though she never ran a company that actually manufactured a product.

meg.jpgThe fact that we keep recycling Whitman says something about how real the glass ceiling is in this country, and it also says something else that all women with a desire to make it to the top need to listen to.

You gals, and guys of course, need to start getting on boards now!

Whitman’s list of board positions, including her seat on HP’s board, is quite impressive. Here are the highlights: Procter & Gamble, DreamWorks, Zipcar, Goldman Sachs, and Teach for America.

Being on boards gets you noticed and connections, and today, more than ever, is a good time to try to get your seat in the board room.

It used to be that many of the nation’s biggest boards were lined with CEOs from other companies but that’s changing. According to a Stanford Graduate School of Business report released last month titled “Do CEOs Make the Best Board Members?”,

“…over the last ten years, the number of active CEOs serving as directors has declined in a precipitous fashion. According to Spencer Stuart, active CEOs represented over half (53 percent) of the pool of newly elected independent directors among S&P 500 companies in 2000. By 2010, that percentage fell to 26 percent. Active CEOs now sit on an average of 0.6 outside boards, down from 1.4 a decade ago.”

There are a host of reasons for this, including corporations now limiting the number of boards their executives can sit on, but what it means is more opportunities for lower level executives and managers.

Clearly, if you haven’t sat on any boards and don’t have an established corporate managerial resume, you’ll have to start out lowering your board target from Fortune 500 company to maybe a local nonprofit. Many of the executives I’ve interviewed over the years told me they started out by sitting on boards of nonprofits they may have volunteered for at one point, or ones that they thought had an important mission.

There are also opportunities to sit on boards of medium sized firms, or start ups that are looking for mentors that someday may end up board members.

One piece I thought did a great job offering advice on where to start is “How To Become A Company Director,” by Julie Garland McLellan, a professional company director who specialized in corporate governance.

She writes:

“My first board was a not-for-profit that administered a trust fund for supporting engineering students who otherwise might have to leave their studies. I’m an engineer, received a grant from a similar fund myself in the past, and was delighted to serve on the board as a way of giving back to the profession as well as advancing my own career aspirations. I wasn’t paid but that wasn’t important for me. I was now on track.”

I don’t want you walking away thinking getting on boards is going to be a breeze, especially for women. It’s still a Good Old Boys network no matter how you slice it. Of the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 100 index, which tracks some of the nation’s largest and most established publicly traded companies, women make up about 18 percent of the director positions, according to Calvert, an investment management company that focuses on socially-conscious investing.

The group has been trying to get more women on boards, and despite some progress, they’ve hit many roadblocks.

Earlier this year, the group tried to get Urban Outfitters to accept a shareholder proposal that they’d consider appointing women to the company board. They just asked that the retailer, which is mainly geared toward women, to “consider” adding a few women.

The proposal was voted down on May 17 during the company’s shareholder meeting.

They said, ‘We don’t have any diversity problem,’” said Aditi Mohapatra, a senior analyst with Calvert, about the retailer.

Hey, maybe they’ll consider Whitman. Turns out, she’s everyone’s token go to gal.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]