Leveraging Your SWE Experience to Gain a Company Board Seat

While many of us didn’t volunteer for a SWE position with the hopes of using that experience to propel us into a company board seat, the reality is that much of our SWE volunteer experience is directly applicable to company and nonprofit boards.

By Lynda Grindstaff, F.SWE, SWE Editorial Board

Our SWE volunteerism is more than just service work, which means that we need to recognize our contributions and position them appropriately. SWE provides its members with opportunities to gain confidence alongside applicable leadership and board-relevant skills, and these will put you a step ahead of others competing for limited open board seats.

SWE vs. company/nonprofit boards of directors organizational structure

SWE’s board of directors (BoD) organizational structure mimics company and nonprofit boards, and you will find similar roles and responsibilities across both. For instance, a company’s BoD doesn’t directly manage the company or do the day-to-day operations, just as SWE’s BoD doesn’t manage the day-to-day operations either. Much of SWE’s committee structure is also similar to what you will find on company and nonprofit boards. SWE committees that are directly related to board operations are the audit, bylaws, ethics, finance, and nominating committees. The roles, responsibilities, and activities on these SWE committees are almost exactly the same as those on companies. Other committees that provide relevant experience (but are not a 1:1 match) are the editorial board, the integrated marketing advisory board, board of trustees, and the senate.

board room illustration
Image credit: Nicholas Matej

How to highlight your SWE experience on your CV

Your board-relevant SWE experience should be listed on both your LinkedIn profile and CV in a section called “Board Service” or “Board Experience.” If you want to list all SWE roles, including those that may not be directly related to a BoD, I recommend listing those separately in a volunteer section. I don’t recommend listing all your SWE experience as volunteer work, however, as that could diminish the value you bring to a board of directors.

Another option is to have several CV versions to focus on different areas — a board CV, regular CV for jobs, and a detailed SWE CV. In each of the descriptions, focus on the impact of the work you did in these roles using language that companies use for their BoDs to show your work is relevant. For instance, if you were on the audit committee, highlight the impact of the work you did related to the audit of the financial reports, overseeing the audit, and providing feedback of the audit. Was there anything specific to the role you played that you can also highlight, such as implementing a new process, streamlining existing processes, or driving costs down? Companies want their boards of directors to be more than just a group of warm bodies in chairs during meetings.

Where to go from here?

If you are looking to grow your board experience in a new area, be strategic about selecting SWE BoD roles and/or committees that will enhance your existing experience. Also revisit how your SWE experience is positioned on your LinkedIn profile and CV. Is everything listed as a volunteer role? If you are looking for a new opportunity and are not sure what would be the most interesting role for you, read more details about each of the committees at https://swe.org/about-swe/governance/committees/. Then, reach out to the chair of the committee you are interested in and ask for an introductory conversation to learn more about that role or committee, or visit with the chair at the annual conference. When the call for committee members opens in the spring, sign up to join and launch your journey to the boardroom!

How Is My SWE Committee Work Related to Company/Nonprofit Boards of Directors Committees?

  • Whether you are on the audit committee of a company or within SWE, this committee oversees the annual audit of the financial reports. Members of this committee are responsible for selecting an auditor, ensuring the needed information is provided to the auditor, reviewing the audit, resolving any issues identified, and reporting the outcome and any recommendations to the board of directors.
  • The bylaws committee is responsible for maintaining the governing documents. It provides governance guidance to SWE leadership, including section officers and members. Inside companies and nonprofits, this guidance will be provided to the company or nonprofit executive staff.
  • The ethics committee is delegated to administer the procedures for review of member or employee conduct. The committee reviews complaints made by SWE members or employees regarding potential violations of the code of conduct. The ethics committee also ensures that the code of conduct and procedure is implemented and followed consistently and objectively. They may also investigate conflicts of interests, harassment policies, whistleblower policies, and more.
  • The finance committee advises the board of directors on budget and financial matters, provides financial input on the long-term strategic plan, and assists in preparing future operating budgets. The committee reviews the financial statements and provides guidance on financial matters such as IRS forms and safeguarding funds.
  • The nominating committee is responsible for developing a slate of candidates for open positions on the board of directors, the board of trustees, the senate, and the standing committee chairs elect. Inside companies and nonprofits, they will form a nominating committee to help find the next CEO or other select C-suite roles. They also may develop policies related to nominations, recruit board members, and take the lead in board evaluations and succession planning.

Lynda Grindstaff, F.SWE, is a vice president of engineering with McAfee. An active SWE Fellow and senior life member, she is the past chair of the editorial board and has been recognized by the Society as an Emerging Leader and Prism Award recipient.


Please see the Viewpoint article in this issue, “Framing SWE Collegiate Experience to Corporate Recruiters,” for a discussion geared toward collegians on ways to position SWE experience to job recruiters.”