For too long, corporate directors have been supposed to know everything, so much so that they're afraid to ask when they don't know something. This is most apparent when a person is nominated to his or her first board seat, where even the most solid of résumés faces a wholly new, unique power system.

An online resource called offers a rich selection of advice and articles for women in business, and some of their tips look at the boardroom. One of their articles, "Boardroom Bound," gives a splendid first-person walkthrough on how to establish yourself in your first board seat, and these ideas that can help new directors no mattter their gender. You should definitely stop by to read the whole piece, but here are some key bullets:

  • Put courtesy first. The boardroom is like the U.S. Senate, where politicos may frankly view their fellows as venal morons but will always refer to each other as "my esteemed colleague."
  • Respect authority, and each other. Direct confrontation or ignoring seniority and titles in the board meeting is taboo, even if you know that something being said is blatantly wrong. Save it for a personal chat after the meeting.
  • Be visibly prepared. That means not just having studied the material in your board book in advance, but making sure that everyone knows it, with such techniques as highlighted info or notes on particular issues. Make clear to your colleagues that you' ve done your homework, but avoid tossing off infobits or random questions just to prove how clever you are.
  • Watch your seat. See if there' s a power section of the board table and gravitate toward that neighborhood, but also try to rotate yourself around the group to build relationships.
  • Appearances count, particularly for the new woman on the board. Let Ally McBeal wear the micro-items to work. Fun, edgy, or sexy outfits that may now be acceptable in your office still lack boardroom gravity, and it's never casual Friday in the boardroom.

Copyright © 2000 Ralph Ward's Boardroom INSIDER