An impressive array of women gathered Thursday at the University of Southern Maine to learn how to land a seat on a board of directors. The event in Portland was part of a national initiative called Women on Board 20/20 – a reference to achieving board diversity of 20 percent women by 2020.

Based on an analysis of Fortune 1000 companies, women hold 17.9 percent of board seats. But the rate drops dramatically for smaller companies.

Looking at the handful of publicly traded companies in Maine, women make up 25 percent of directors, according to data presented at the event organized by entrepreneur Susan Dench. But there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Speakers Don Gooding of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, Sandra Stone, former chairwoman of Maine Angels, Terry Sutton, chief operating officer of Davo Technologies, and Mike Heffernan, CEO of Mobiquity, emphasized how much companies and nonprofits benefit when there’s conflict and diversity on a board – a combination that produces “creative abrasion,” which challenges the status quo and heightens accountability.

Among their advice:

Update your LinkedIn profile and emphasize leadership achievements.

Take responsibility for a project at work that makes you accountable for profit and loss. Many women have skills in HR and marketing, but directors with financial acumen are a chronic need on boards.

 Get comfortable with networking. Even though it’s an inefficient way to recruit board members, it is often used, especially by smaller companies. Make a list of the companies or nonprofits you’d be interested in serving on, their board members and then a list of whom you know. Cross-reference and connect.

 Make a list of your accomplishments and speak to them at work. Don’t expect others to toot your horn. That will build your reputation for competency among your peers and confidence within yourself.

 Once you become a member of a board, listen well, then speak up. Gooding says: “Asking the right question at the right time in the right way is one of the most important skills you can bring to any board.”

For more information, check out www.2020wob.com.

BRIGHTENING FORECAST FOR 2016

TD Bank shared the results of an interesting survey Monday about how optimistic CFOs are feeling as we approach a new year. Although only eight Maine companies participated in the survey, they are all big players (seven had annual sales from $50 million to $250 million and the other’s sales were north of $250 million).

Fifty percent of the respondents said they are somewhat more optimistic about the country’s economic growth in 2016 compared with 2015. Twenty-five percent said they expected no change and 25 percent said they were somewhat less optimistic.

The numbers were more dramatic when the CFOs were asked to forecast growth of their own companies – 62.5 percent said they were somewhat optimistic or much more optimistic, while 37.5 percent predicted no change or they were somewhat less optimistic about their own companies’ prospects next year.

Among the other interesting data: 37.5 percent expect to invest in technology such as hardware and 25 percent in data security in 2016. Also, 37.5 percent expect to invest in new facilities and 25 percent will upgrade existing facilities.

And in gearing up for a presidential election year, the bank asked which issues the CFOs would like to see candidates address as part of their campaign platforms. The answers:

 Health care reform, 37.5 percent.

 Government efficiency, 37.5 percent.

 Global competitiveness, 12.5 percent.

 Business regulation, 12.5 percent.

None of the respondents indicated political interest in corporate taxes, wage inequality, energy prices or job creation.

SMALL COMPANY CYBER DEFENSES

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity expert visited Maine last week to acquaint small and midsize businesses in the state with the department’s C³ Voluntary Program, undoubtedly named by a techie and not a marketing expert. C³ stands for Critical infrastructure Cyber Community. Launched in 2014, the program provides a number of ways for businesses to get help with fending off cyberattacks.

The average cost of a data breach is $3.8 million, which can be devastating to a small or midsize business, according to DHS. Still, many businesses lack the know-how to set up and maintain proper cybersecurity to ward off attacks.

The department’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team has set up a website, us-cert.gov/ccubedvp, where businesses can access free risk-assessment tools and learn about best practices for cybersecurity. Those with questions about the program can email DHS at [email protected]