Diversifying your board to drive better business outcomes with Carolyn Carpeneti of AllRaise

Diversifying your board to drive better business outcomes with Carolyn Carpeneti of AllRaise

Join our conversation with Carolyn Carpeneti of All Raise as she shares her insights on building a board to produce better outcomes. She comes to us with 16 years of experience as she discusses the importance of enriching and diversifying a board with executives from different cultural and functional backgrounds.

Carolyn talks about her non-traditional journey from software sales to VP of Talent at a leading VC firm. She also share with us what drew her to executive search. At Allraise, Carolyn uses her strengths in relationships, team building, and bringing people together as she works to better represent the people that your organizations and employees serve.

“We work with clients that have a very big stake in the sand on diversity and they know that when they work with us that they will only be getting diverse slates of candidates. We will never have a conversation with them that says “We couldn’t find a candidate, we need to open up the search”. That’s never an option for us and, quite frankly, it’s never needed to be an option because the talent is definitely there.”

Carolyn also discusses the Board Xcelerate program she runs which taps into the power of the All Raise community to place board-ready and board-proven leaders onto the boards of high-growth and private tech companies.

Tactical and tangible strategies regarding professional experience and qualifications that can lead to board readiness are discussed in detail by Maren and Carolyn. Bonus! These tips, with an emphasis on ‘diversifying’ are for BOTH the candidate looking to grow their career AND actively recruiting executive boards and scaling teams.

If you liked this podcast and want more information on connecting with great executive talent, please check out our Podcast episode in which we chat about Connecting founders and great executive talent with Atli Thorkelsson of Redpoint Ventures.

Be sure to check out Carolyn’s go-to book: The New Jim Crow

Photo of Carolyn Carpeneti
Carolyn Carpeneti

Carolyn is currently the Vice President of Talent at Allraise, an organization that was started to help female founders and female funders.

Maren Kate
Today, my guest is Carolyn Carpeneti. She is currently the Vice President of Talent All Raise where she runs the Board Xcelerate program. Carolyn has 16 years of executive search experience with a large focus on diversity. And Carolyn, I'm really excited to have you here to talk about recruiting, to talk about hiring, to talk about diversity, and especially, to talk about how to build boards and how people should think about that. Thanks so much for joining us.

Carolyn Carpeneti
Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

Maren Kate
So my first question is, what was your first job?

Carolyn Carpeneti
My first job. My first professional job?

Maren Kate
Your first, like the first job you got a paycheck at and then the first professional job.

Carolyn Carpeneti
Oh, geez. Okay, full disclosure. The first job I ever got a paycheck for was I was a model.

Maren Kate
How old?

Carolyn Carpeneti
I was 17. For an athletic, kind of, a workout kind of a brand. That was my first paying job.

Maren Kate
I realized when I've been asking this question on these interviews, I always thought my first paying job was at 15 working at a Java Jungle or whatever the coffee shop was near my house. But I realized that actually, when I was 12, I was an extra in, oh, I forget what the movie was. But I was an extra in a…The Devil’s Advocate. And I actually got a $75 paycheck from that and I remember being 12 and just thinking like, “oh my gosh, I am the richest kid in the world”.

Carolyn Carpeneti
You know what, actually, I take that back. My first paying job, I was a babysitter. I was probably, oh my gosh, maybe 15. And I babysat this little three-year-old girl every once in a while. So that was probably my first, yeah that was my first paying job.

Maren Kate
It always amazes me when I think of babysitting; like teenagers. And I think now as an adult, I'm like, who trusted me with their children at like 14 and 15? It's mind-blowing. So what was your first professional job?

Carolyn Carpeneti
My first professional job was software sales.

Maren Kate
And how did you get into that?

Carolyn Carpeneti
Actually, I got into that; I was hired through somebody that I know and I got into it as, I really wanted to get into some sort of sales role, people, talking, relationships. That's always been something that I've kind of gravitated to so I thought it would be interesting to be in an environment where I'm working with people and communicating with people. Technology was something that was certainly, kind of, taking off and on the forefront and so it was an ability to do what I think I do really well and do it in an industry that had a very bright future.

Maren Kate
So how did you go from that first professional job to what you're doing now? Like what was the path?

Carolyn Carpeneti
My path is not a traditional path. So I was in software sales for a few years and then I got into event planning and when I was working in software I was always working in smaller, scrappy kind of companies and so, in addition to selling and building sales teams, I was also the person that was involved in creating user conferences and sales meetings and things like that and that was very fun for me. So I made a physical move from one geographical location to another and, rather than getting just another sales job, I thought I would focus on what I loved, which was my side gig when I was in sales. And so anyway, long story short, I built an event production company and did some really cool things. I mean, it was one of the producers of the XGames, created a women's conference in San Francisco that was held every year at the Moscone Center that got about 6-7 thousand women at it, which was super cool and very diverse, much more diverse than the professional business, traditional conferences that were happening around the country. And so I did that for a while and I did a lot of conferences for nonprofits during that time. And I was getting out of that and there was a woman that I sat on a board with, she was a managing director, the first actual female Managing Director at Korn Ferry, who is kind of a mentor of mine. And she tapped me on the shoulder about executive search and I didn't know much about executive search because my career was a little bit nontraditional. And then she told me about it and I thought, well, gosh, you know, I mean, at the end of the day, if you do this job right, you're really making a positive change for people. And so it really intrigued me, much like events, executive search is you're learning a lot about a company, you're working on a specific project, you're finishing that project, and then you're moving on to the next one. So it's a work environment that has a lot of peaks and valleys and so it's not maintenance mode. Sometimes you're moving at a million miles an hour. Other times, you could kind of take a breath and relax. And I like that pace so the pace I thought would work for me. The diversity in meeting different companies and different people, the culture piece, really understanding what makes a company tick, beyond just the titles that are in the company, and really learning what makes individuals tick, and putting those puzzle pieces together to make that perfect match is something that I thought would just be really challenging, intellectually challenging, and very gratifying if I did it right. So anyway, so she made some introductions to me, I got hired on at a small boutique firm, was an associate there for two years, then became a partner, and have been doing executive placement ever since.

Maren Kate
I'd love to dig into the work you're doing at All Raise around the Board Xcelerate program, especially what drew you to that problem space from the executive recruiting world?

Carolyn Carpeneti
What drew me to the space was a couple things. Diversity has become more and more popular. And I guess you could say, over the past five years, I would get tapped on the shoulder by clients that would say, “we want this to be a diversity search” and that would get me very excited and very enthusiastic. And we'd work on the search for about a couple of weeks, three weeks, and then, oftentimes, clients would say, “you know, let's open it up, you know, that was a great exercise, met some great people, let's open it up”. And it kind of left me feeling with “why did we just do that exercise? Did we do that exercise because diversity is really important to you or did we do that exercise because you wanted to feel good about yourself?”. And so there was that. The other thing was, after the George Floyd incident, myself and a colleague decided that we wanted to do something. Weren't quite sure what we wanted to do but something. So we decided to create a spreadsheet and get 100 executives on this spreadsheet. And the criteria needed to be, they needed to be executives that we knew and we vetted, and they need to needed to be executives that were black and executives that were ready to either move into a board role or move into a C-level role. And with that spreadsheet, we just wanted to give it away. And that became a side passion project that was one of the most exciting things I had ever done. And I got so excited about this spreadsheet and it gave me so much joy just to give it away. Three people got placed on boards from it and it was just extraordinary. It was because of that project that I was introduced to All Raise and the reason why I got so excited about All Raise and ultimately joined All Raise is because of our process. We work with clients that have a very big stake in the sand on diversity and they know that when they work with us that they will only be getting diverse slates of candidates. We will never have a conversation with them that says “we couldn't find a candidate, we need to open up the search”. That's never an option for us and, quite frankly, it's never needed to be an option because the talent is definitely there. And so the clients that come to us are different than the client I just mentioned that wanted to do the 2-3 week exercise on diversity. The clients that come to us now really have a big stick in the sand and diversity matters to them. And it's a joy, I mean, it's a joy and it's an honor every day to meet the candidates that I meet and to work with the clients that I work with.

Maren Kate
That's awesome. It's interesting in terms of the board process because I think there's so much focus on diversity in hiring but I think something you and I touched base on the last time we talked was if you want to have a vibrant and a diverse and just like a more representative of what the world looks like, what our country looks like, if you want to have a team that represents different viewpoints, then you need to have, ideally, you have an executive team that is diverse. And ideally, you have a board that's diverse. But it usually seems like people are trying to impact change from the bottom up. And with the Board Xcelerate program, and just the way you think about boards in general, what are your thoughts on, like, how can people structure boards or executive teams or even use advisors so that the diversity is going top-down?

Carolyn Carpeneti
Well, it certainly is, if you're going to make an impact, it certainly is a top-down, bottom-up approach. And with regards to being on a board, I think that you know, corporate boards are under increasing pressure to diversify and adding more women and underrepresented executives, as well as executives from different cultural and functional backgrounds in an effort to better represent the people that their organizations and employees serve. So that's kind of the overall goal, right. But at the same time, the bar for board readiness has never been higher. I mean, directors are, candidates are scrutinized all the time on their ability to understand more complex businesses and demonstrate technical know-how and deliver effective governance and generate high growth and sustainable long-term performance. So you know, those are all the things that they're looking for. And so, I think, for executives thinking about getting on a board, or even executives thinking about moving into more of the C-level executive roles, the important things for them to think about, from a tactical perspective, are certainly financial, being in roles where you are given P&L responsibility, ideally, or some sort of P&L ownership. Being strategic and working on as many strategic projects as you can. Be very mindful and having a strategic approach to how you build and execute on your job, whatever that job might be. The relationships that you seek out are super important. Seeking out opportunities to interact with and present to the board are crucial. Those are very good things to do. And I also think cross-functional experience is key. To get as much cross-functional experience as you can that does a variety of things. It gives you great exposure into your organization, which will help you as you grow in your career from moving into a C-level role, if that's your desire, or moving into a board-level role if that's your desire. And it also gives you the opportunity to develop your collaboration skills which greatly help with your career and kind of overseeing the organization as a whole but to further elaborate on boards, in my opinion, a great board, a board that's really going to move the needle on a business has a group of, it's a diverse perspective, sitting around a table, drawing on those different perspectives to obtain a better outcome for the company. And the only way to obtain that outcome is really to put together a board that truly represents diversity of thought. And that means recruiting people from different functional backgrounds and different genders and different ethnic backgrounds because it's that diversity of thought and that perspective that ultimately will drive better business outcomes.

Maren Kate
You just answered one question I was going to ask was how do you think about diversity? And I think that was actually a perfect answer to it. And then in terms of, I guess, another kind of functional question is, from a careers perspective, who and when should someone start thinking about joining a board? What are the qualifications? When do you normally see, I guess, that's a two-part question. When should people start thinking about it? And then when should they start actively pursuing it? Or is there a general time in your career?

Carolyn Carpeneti
Um, I mean, I think you need to have a certain set of experiences. Like, for example, if you've got the P&L responsibility, and you've had some strategic responsibility, and you're working with a board, and you've got some cross-functional experience. I mean, those are the types of things that get you ready. And I'm really big on helping people get their first-time board seat. I have constant conversations with clients about board experience versus board exposure. And so those are the four areas that I think can get you ready. What type of title you need? I mean, there are certain titles and functional backgrounds that are sought after a little bit more than others. For example, right now, because the markets are what they are and the IPO stock market is so strong right now, we get a lot of requests for female audit chairs or female CFOs. But that being said, for the types of board placements that we do, which are mostly private not public boards, because public boards, I think they're looking for a little bit more governance experience, but for the private boards that we work with, which are high growth venture and private equity-backed companies, they're really looking for people that have moved the needle somehow and a high growth perspective. Now, what can that be? It could be go-to-market, it could be from an operational perspective, it could be from a talent and an HR perspective could be from a strategic perspective. But it's usually somebody that has done something within their career that has moved the needle towards a high growth trajectory, toward the company moving forward in that high growth phase.

Maren Kate
Okay, that makes sense. And so just to get an understanding, especially so people listening can understand if this is something that that they should pursue, how does Board Xcelerate, run? What does the actual process look like?

Carolyn Carpeneti
Ah, so Board Xcelerate was started about a year ago and All Raise as an organization was approached by Sapphire, Sequoia, and GGV, those are three very, very prominent venture capital companies in the valley, and they came to us and they said, you know, we have all of these independent board seats within our portfolio of companies and oftentimes they just either A) sit vacant because the CEO/founder has got a very busy day job and doesn't necessarily have the time to go out and really kind of comb the market for talent to put on their board so they either A) sitting vacant or B) they get filled with what I would call “a friend of the founder”, somebody that the founder has gone to business school with or golfs with, and really, back to that diversity of thought, doesn't have diversity of thought because they’re so much like the founder. And so they came to us asking if we could put together a program that focused on diversity, and diversity being female, underrepresented male, and non-binary people. But more so a program that offers a process, a process that actually stays the course and fills the board seat. Because sometimes companies have the greatest of intentions but, if they don't have somebody running the process, it's very easy for a meeting to need to be rescheduled and not get rescheduled. For time to just drag. On average, with these private companies, board placements were taking up to nine months, which is crazy. So they came to us and asked us if we could put together a process that filled these board roles within 90 days. And so that's what we did. So we operate much like and sometimes partner with executive search firms. So a company will come to us. And what we do is we'll spend a lot of time with them, we do a super deep dive with them to understand their business, understand their growth strategy, understand their pain points. And then we peel it back from there and we talk to them about the functional kind of talent, the functional background of somebody that could add the greatest value at the board level. And then we have got, I mean over the course of the past year, we've built an extraordinary database. We have over 4,000 underrepresented candidates in our database, I mean, and they're rock stars; they're fabulous. And so we have a strong database, but we also have, I would have to say, our secret weapon is we have this badass advisory board of these amazing executives that are all the people that everybody wants to get to. And the majority of them are boarded up, they're running very successful companies. Many of them have gone public and so they don't have time to take on another board seat but they're all in the position of paying it forward. And they're all very dedicated to paying it forward. And so this advisory board gives us, they make recommendations of up and coming board members so we definitely have our fingers on the pulse, probably more so than any company in the country, of up and coming talent. They are helping mentor these people to make them board ready. And through their network can point us in the direction of other very, very, very seasoned executives. And so we get a lot of our referrals through our advisory board and that just feels good because it's great because they have these extraordinary networks, and their willingness to just want to pay it forward and want to bring others along with them to really move that diversity needle is extraordinary.

Maren Kate
It's a huge lever, really. I mean, you think about it, it's like, of course, there's going to be the five people that any companies that be like, “this would be a dream board person and they come from a diverse background”. Just like you could be like “this is a dream engineer” and whatever. But I love the idea of saying this dream engineer probably gets pitched every week and has a job they enjoy and XYZ but they probably mentor or know five other people that are equally talented, maybe a little bit more junior in their career, or just haven't had the same breaks.

Carolyn Carpeneti
Yeah, exactly. And that's our advisory board. And the one thing that I can say that differentiates us is we don't just spin our Rolodex. And that's what happens a lot of times and that's why I think there's this myth that the talent doesn't exist and I get to sit in a seat every day all day long and I do nothing but bust that myth that the talent doesn't exist because it does exist. But it does exist when you just have one Rolodex and you're constantly spinning your Rolodex calling the people on your Rolodex. And so I have the extraordinary pleasure of working with this amazing group of people that, you know, they've done extraordinary things and they know extraordinary people and they're helping them along. And so that's what fills our pipeline and so there's not really any, I mean, there's no membership criteria, if you will.

Maren Kate
If someone’s listening to this and they wanted to potentially join a board or look into the process, they should just go to All Raise and check out the Board Xcelerate program?

Carolyn Carpeneti
They can go to All Raise. The one thing I want to say is we don't do, there are some extraordinary organizations out there that are running some magnificent board readiness programs. There are great organizations out there that have got tons of content that can help you with your board bio, that can help you with interview prep, I mean, just a variety of things. There are so many resources and we partner with many of them. And so someone could certainly come to Board Xcelerate and we would point them in the right direction of the right resource if they wanted to embark on more of a traditional board readiness program. So we don't have boot camps or anything like that, that we run, but we partner with some great organizations that do.

Maren Kate
Great. I'll ask you for some of the links after our call and I'll put them in the show notes because that would be, I'm sure, very meaningful.

Carolyn Carpeneti
Perfect.

Maren Kate
So in terms of, this is a little bit different but, what is the best piece of advice that you've been given recently?

Carolyn Carpeneti
Um, gosh, the best piece of advice that I have been given? I mean, if I gave you advice that I've been given recently, it's… let me share with you the best…..The best piece of advice that I've been given hasn't been recent, but it is one that has stuck with me. There are two pieces of advice that have stuck with me for years and years and years and they're kind of my North Star in everything that I do. One is which, you can never change the circumstances around you but you can always change how you respond to them. And that has always been kind of my guiding light in good times and in bad times; in challenging situations and celebratory situations. I can't change those situations but I can always change how I show up in those situations. And how I show up dictates the outcome. The circumstance doesn't dictate the outcome; how I show up dictates the outcome. So that's one. The other one is curiosity and showing up with a curious mindset when you're in situations that you have absolutely no idea what is happening. And I cannot tell you the ability, not the ability, but the words, “tell me more” have served me so well in situations when I can be sitting, talking to a client, client is running a very deep tech organization and I'm really, you know, out of the ballpark here. I mean, it's really, the understanding, I'm just not grasping it. And by showing up with the words, “tell me more”, “that was an interesting point tell me more”, has been my lifeline in many situations. Because I cannot say I don't understand what you're talking about. Please re-explain it to me. But by saying, “Wow, that's so interesting. Tell me more”. And I just build on that and build on that. And that's how I get my knowledge. That's how I get my information. And I can't remember who told me to lean into that curiosity but one of my mentors did, you know, probably about five, six years ago and I still do that. I do that all the time.

Maren Kate
I think curiosity is one of the most important traits for, like, when I hire for someone, whether it's for Avra or whether we're hiring for a client, the ability to learn and curiosity are two of the absolutely most important qualities. It's like you could have so many other things stacked in your corner, so to speak, you could have gone to a fancy school, you could have a high IQ, whatever, but if you are curious and you are willing and able to learn, really there's no ceiling for that. And I love the idea of “tell me more”. I'm going to start using those words because, I mean, the reason I do this podcast is I love asking questions, I love learning through stories, and through people's experiences. And I think that when you're maybe early in your career, and or you're just out of depth in a specific vertical, we work with a lot of web3 companies now, and it is constantly amazing what our teams are learning about crypto, blockchain, like NFT, the actual inner workings of how things are documented, and the technology, and the various languages that are popping up. You know, you're never going to be able to be an expert, especially in all these new technologies, and so asking with that kind of curious heart of “tell me more” and people who are passionate about something, who know a lot about something, they enjoy sharing, they enjoy telling people about their passion and their experience. So that is excellent advice.

Carolyn Carpeneti
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I, you know, as a career in sales, a career in recruiting, I'm naturally curious and if I'm talking to a candidate I'm always curious and I'm asking questions. But I'm asking questions about a role I'm trying to fill and asking questions about something that I already know about to get to know them better. When I flipped it and started using the same curiosity and leaning into that which I don't know, instead of being quiet and taking a ton of notes and then trying to figure out afterward and just sitting there shaking my head, like, I understand everything that they're saying. Leaning into what I don't know with curiosity is very different than leaning into what I do know with curiosity. And leaning into what I don't know with curiosity has been, you know, that's been one of the greatest learning exercises and lessons that has moved me forward in a very positive way.

Maren Kate
And it's also has to do with authenticity and vulnerability because you have to be able to be vulnerable to say that, “tell me more”, and really authentically represent what you know and what you don't know. And I think people react to that really well when it is authentic.

Carolyn Carpeneti
They react to it really well. I mean people like, I believe, I truly believe at the end of the day, people want to help other people.

Maren Kate
I think so too. Yeah, I think so too. And I think when we remember that it's, and then also, especially putting that forward and giving back in that way is something important to take with us through our careers. So my final few questions. First of all, if you had to start fresh, go into a completely new vertical industry, if you had to like make money someway, had to have a job what would it be and why? And I'm not saying make a lot of money. I'm saying you just need to put a roof over your head, eat.

Carolyn Carpeneti
And doing something completely different?

Maren Kate
Completely different

Carolyn Carpeneti
I would be a luxury travel agent. I love love love love to go to, and by luxury, I don't necessarily mean booking people at the Ritz in Paris. What I mean is exotic travel. Taking people on a safari in Africa, to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, exploring the Amazon. I love those type of experiential types of travel and vacation and that is what I would bar none, no questions asked, would be organizing trips like that.

Maren Kate
And I mean that feeds into the curiosity too. That’s awesome.

Carolyn Carpeneti
I suppose.

Maren Kate
What product or tool do you rely on the most to do your best work?

Carolyn Carpeneti
What product or tool? Hmm….

Maren Kate
My combo right now is Notion, and like I use Notion a lot, and then I also sync it up with a good amount of Google Spreadsheets.

Carolyn Carpeneti
My number one tool is…no I take that back, I just got a new tool called Gem, which is for me and the amount of outreach that I do really helps me coordinate the emails that I send out, has a great analytics piece so I can understand on who’s opening my emails, who's not opening them. If not enough people are opening them I can tweak my message a little bit. It tells me when I need to send follow-ups to people. So it's a simple tool. It's a very simple tool but considering the amount of outreach that I do and the amount of inbound emails that I have, in order to stay on top of making sure that I respond to every email and follow up on every email, that's a tool that I just started using that I think I'm gonna like.

Maren Kate
I've got to check that out. I also think the simplest tools are usually the best. What is your favorite podcast or book from the last year?

Carolyn Carpeneti
The New Jim Crow

Maren Kate
Okay. I haven’t read that. And then what about podcast?

Carolyn Carpeneti
Oh, boy. I don't really have a favorite. I don’t. I just, you know, I bounced around and it's been a while since one really kind of hooked me in. Yeah, I don't have a favorite.

Maren Kate
No worries. I'm a kind of podcast junkie so I don't even know, I don't think it's that healthy either. And then lastly, how can people find more about you about All Raise and Board Xcelerate? Where can they find you online is a better question.

Carolyn Carpeneti
Well, they could go to All Raise, and that's allraise.org. That'll give you information about, that'll take you to the All Raise sites. And All Raise is an organization that was started about four years ago that helps female founders and female funders, women that want to become partners in venture capital. And then within All Raise, once you're on our website, you will see a tab for Board Xcelerate and if you click on that tab for Board Xcelerate it will tell you all about our program, all about our offerings, you'll see our amazing advisory board on there, my email address is on there. And anybody that is interested in talking about becoming on a board or feels that they're board ready and would like to be introduced to opportunities, I welcome any and all inquiries.

Maren Kate
Awesome. Carolyn, thank you so much. This is amazing.

Carolyn Carpeneti
You're welcome. Thank you

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