Women looking to serve on cor­po­rate boards would do well to listen to Julie Norris, a senior client partner at Korn/​Ferry Inter­na­tional, the world’s largest exec­u­tive search firm.

Build an external brand,” Norris said. “Speak at events, write arti­cles, and get to know people out­side of your industry.”

Excel at your day job,” she con­tinued. “Be great at what you do, whether you’re the chief finan­cial officer or the head of marketing.”

Norris’ advice piqued the interest of dozens of female pres­i­dents, CEOs, and exec­u­tive direc­tors who filled the Alumni Center on Tuesday evening for a two-​​hour panel dis­cus­sion on women’s path to the cor­po­rate boardroom.

In addi­tion to Norris, the pan­elists com­prised Mary Baglivo, chief mar­keting officer and vice pres­i­dent of global mar­keting at North­western Uni­ver­sity; and Susan Hunt Stevens, founder and CEO of Prac­ti­cally Green, the leading tech­nology provider of sus­tain­ability engage­ment pro­grams for global companies.

The con­ver­sa­tion was mod­er­ated by Henry Nasella, Northeastern’s chair of the Board of Trustees, and co-​​sponsored in part by 2020 Women on Boards, a national cam­paign ded­i­cated to increasing the per­centage of women on cor­po­rate boards by the year 2020.

The dis­cus­sion ranged from why more women should serve on cor­po­rate boards to what a prospec­tive board member should know before accepting the position.

The former topic is a simple matter of dol­lars and sense. A 2011 study by the man­age­ment con­sulting firm McK­insey & Com­pany found that com­pa­nies with higher pro­por­tions of women on boards exhibit a higher degree of orga­ni­za­tion, above-​​average oper­ating mar­gins, and higher valuations.

Diverse teams get better results, par­tic­u­larly in terms of inno­va­tion and new product devel­op­ment,” said Baglivo, who serves on the board of direc­tors of Baby Jogger, Phillips Van Heusen, and Host Hotels and Resorts.

Large cor­po­ra­tions appear to be lis­tening. In 2013, women made up 16.6 per­cent of board mem­ber­ship in For­tune 1000 com­pa­nies, up from 14.6 per­cent in 2011.

The growth is exciting, the pan­elists agreed, but it should not prompt prospec­tive board mem­bers to accept the first posi­tion they’re offered.

Instead, they should “think about what skills they have that could be a fit for the com­pa­nies they’re inter­ested in,” said Baglivo. “I’ve always done better in sub­ject mat­ters that are fun and pique my curiosity.”

According to Stevens, prospec­tive board mem­bers should vet their poten­tial col­leagues before accepting the posi­tion. Stevens, who sits on the board of Xconomy​.com, rec­om­mends asking, “Do I like the people I’m on the board with? Do I like the investors? Do I like the founder?”

Nasella, who is cur­rently on the board of direc­tors of Au Bon Pain, Nat­ural Food Hold­ings, and Phillips Van Heusen, agreed with Stevens’ assess­ment strategy. “You better like the other board mem­bers,” he said. “Col­le­giality is really important.”

So, too, is writing an engaging board CV. In the Q-​​and-​​A, Norris instructed one woman who asked for advice on fine-​​tuning her cur­riculum vitae to write a “one-​​page snap­shot of who you are and your value propo­si­tion.” The ability to artic­u­late her exper­tise, Norris told her, would “make you all the more compelling.”