3 Tips to Re-energize Your Board Service in 2015

By Marcela Garcia, Assoc. Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Re-energize your board service

It’s a new year—and with this comes realigning the energy we have to invest in ourselves and others. This includes our New Year resolutions to go back to the gym, spend more quality time with our loved ones, as well as to be more intentional with the use of our “free” time. As individuals who value service and community, it is of the utmost importance that we invest some time in service that is meaningful and rewarding. But let’s keep it real—this can be a challenge. Especially if you are new to board service, you might not know what to expect or how you will be connected. And even if you are seasoned, becoming jaded with the challenges of board service does happen.

So, as I put together on-boarding guides and manuals, and talk to Partner School board members, Board Corps members, and those contemplating board service, I reflect on the lessons that I have learned as we launch the third year of the Board Corps program.

Board Corps members who have already served at least a year were asked to share advice with other program participants during a pinning ceremony that we hosted to celebrate the milestone of having placed more than 50 Board Corps members on our Partner School boards. The advice they shared was very practical and can be categorized into three important areas.

Don’t stop learning

  • Make the time to attend the ongoing education opportunities – PAVE’s training are first class and will benefit both you and the school.
  • Be prepared to listen and learn, but don’t be afraid to participate. You have a lot to offer so don’t hold back.
  • Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and take a risk.

Find ways to connect your intellect and heart to the mission of the school 

  • Patience and empathy will go a long way when working through conflicting ideas.
  • Make sure you believe in the culture and mission of the school. Visit during the school day, get to know the teachers and students.
  • Go into the process with an open mind and open heart.

Be patient

  • It takes time; schools can’t be turned around overnight.
  • Be open to taking on new and different challenges that take you outside your comfort zone and allow you to grow!
  • You’ll always get more out of it then you put in.

As we get re-energized, and find ways to make our work significant, it is important that we connect our intellect and heart to the work we do. How are you making this happen in 2015?​

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Board Diversity – Representing the Populations You Serve

By Marcela Garcia, Associate Director of Governance & Board Leadership

I have sat around many board tables—through my work serving on non-profit boards as well as an adviser—analyzing systems, structures, and culture and how these affect organizational operations. Through my observations and my lived experience, the lack of diversity of folks around those tables is still alarming—whether that is a metric that looks at race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or expertise. However, this is not new information since not much of a dent has been made to change this in the last decade. We know that board diversity is lagging in almost every sector, non-profit and corporate. Within the non-profit sector 86% of nonprofit board members nationwide are White.

Diversity in the Boardroom

With 30 years since the court-ordered school desegregation was implemented in Milwaukee, students of color composed 86.4% of the 2013-2014 student enrollment within our public school district; 93.8% of the enrollment at independent charter schools; and 78% of private school enrollment for the same school year. With student demographics like these, it is only natural to question why the board representation of these institutions do not resemble the populations they serve. The education system in my city continues to be inequitable for countless kids and youth. Especially for those kids living at or below the poverty level, and for brown and black kids. The socioeconomic disparities in Milwaukee are very visible. As a result, the challenges with board service can be very intimidating, and at times, uncomfortable.

Here are four tips to keep in mind as you are reflecting on your board service, or on your interest to get involved.

1.       The savior mentality is dangerous. As leaders, we not only have to acknowledge our privilege, but learn how to challenge it within ourselves and to others. Our function as a board member is not to “save” the communities in which we work. Marginalized communities are not empty vessels that are waiting for your pouring—stop flattering yourself.

2.       Representation is not enough. Just because a board is tracking the progress of the numbers (number of women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGTBQ, under 30 years old, etc.) on the board does not mean that it is addressing gaps within its structure, nor creating a culture that embraces diversity as an organizational value. Keep in mind that bringing diverse leadership on board will not single-handedly empower the marginalized. It’s not just about the numbers, people!

3.       Finding leadership for your board is not like ordering a hamburger. “I’ll take a young Black or Latino, with a side of some board service.” Doesn’t that just sound awful? Remember that the characteristics that contribute to diversity can be either visible or invisible. When considering new board members, it is important to aim to build bridges that connect your organization to networks that perhaps have not before been built or crossed. Being intentional and keeping the future needs of your organization in mind while considering perspective board members is important.

4.       If it’s not in the organization fabric, it will not be sustainable. The value of what diversity brings to an organization has to be operative and integrated into the fabric of the organization. Institutional buy-in has to happen for long-term sustainability. This is not the responsibility of one person in the organization, nor that of a committee. There has to be a plan to insure that this diverse leadership is involved, respected, valued, and connected to the mission of the organization.

As the second year of Board Corps comes to an end, I am very hopeful that PAVE’s Board Corps Program will continue to make a difference in the way boards are built and sustained. Since 25% of our program applicants self-identified as a racial/ethnic minority, 51% as women, and 64% as 40 years and younger, I am confident that change will begin to be felt and seen across many more board tables in Milwaukee.

Lessons from the Corporation – 3 Compelling Reasons Why It Pays to Have Women on Your Board

By Joan Feiereisen, Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Women on Boards of Directors

We all instinctively know it’s better to have a board that’s gender-diverse. But why? At the recent BoardSource Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., Dr. Margaret Reid from the University of Arkansas examined research from for-profit companies that showed why having the female perspective is not just politically correct, but also makes good business sense.

  • Women directors mean more profits – In a study on corporate performance and women’s representation on boards of directors (Carter and Wagner, Catalyst – 2004-2008), companies with three or more women on their boards outperformed those with zero women by 84%. Another study found that having at least one woman on a board decreases bankruptcy by a full 20% (Wilson and Atlantar, 2009).
  • Having women on boards leads to more ethical behavior – Companies with more women on their boards see better corporate governance and ethical behavior (Franke, 1997). It isn’t so much that women are necessarily more honest, but they tend to ask more questions, thus uncovering issues that boards should be addressing.
  • It never pays to marginalize half the population – Corporations have realized that not having females represented on their boards leads to losing a critical opinion and voice. If women feel shut out from decision-making, they are less likely to support an organization that doesn’t value a feminine perspective.

How does the business case parallel schools? While businesses may lose perspective on their products and services without women involved at a high level, schools can miss out on important insight on everything from parent involvement to fundraising strategy to marketing ideas. They also may not be hearing all of those hard-hitting questions women are likely to pose.

Unfortunately, businesses aren’t paying enough attention to the research. Recent statistics show that right here in our state, only 15.5% of board seats in Wisconsin’s top 50 companies are held by women. The Greater Milwaukee Committee is joining forces with Milwaukee Women Inc. in their goal to increase that number substantially.

PAVE recognized early on that it was important to have diverse boards governing schools. Our Board Corps is far ahead of the curve when it comes to recruiting women to serve on school boards. 50% of PAVE’s Board Corps members are female and will be productively adding their insight and perspective to our Partner Schools in the coming years. Lessons definitely learned!

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility – Advice for Board Chairs

By Joan Feiereisen, Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Board Chair Advice

Simmons Lettre’s recent blog post “Thoughts from an Outgoing Board Chair” on the Charter Board Partners’ website reminded me of one of our most engaging workshop sessions this past year. A panel of three of the most successful and experienced school board chairs in Milwaukee, Jose Olivieri of Bruce Guadalupe Community School, Peter Bruce from Urban Day School, and Mary Diez of Carmen High School, shared their collective wisdom with board members and heads of schools. They echoed many of Simmons’ musings and added a few others. A sampling:

  • You’re not just one of the gang anymore – When you are a “regular” board member, you can sometimes coast at board meetings, surreptitiously check your email, come (a bit) unprepared, perhaps not read every report. But as the chair, you have to be totally on top of your game, ready to lead discussion, engage other members, ask probing questions. You simply can’t flip the “off” switch.
  • Don’t let your Executive Committee get out of hand – As Chair, you will head up this important committee. It is a critical group for being able to come together quickly in a crisis, but don’t let it become a “board within a board.” Members not on the Executive Committee will wonder what they are there for if this group becomes too powerful.
  • Be sure to have a capable #2 in place – As Spider Man learned, with great power comes great responsibility. Being Board Chair can be a lonely job and it’s important to have a strong Vice Chair or Chair Elect to work with. Not only will you have another mind working to problem solve and trouble shoot, you are also providing on-the-job training for the person who will inherit your position.
  • Take time to celebrate – Board work is hard and celebrating success provides encouragement for taking on bigger challenges in the future. Too often, accomplishments are lost in the midst of financial statements and bylaw revisions. So don’t forget to break out the bubbly, cue the noisemakers, and let them eat cake!

Make sure to read Simmons’ blog post too and then comment below and share your insight about being a board chair (or, being on a board with a great chair).