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Working with Boards: Who, When and How to Serve

11 Nov 2014 9:20 PM | Deleted user
Boston Women in Finance presented “Working with Boards: Who, When and How to Serve” as our  November program.  Led by moderator Kathleen Burke, Vice President, General Counsel and Assistant Secretary, MKS Instruments, Inc., the panel covered all aspects of board service – from first appointment to responsibilities to rewards.

“I joined my first board because I was in transition and wanted to fill my time,” explained panelist Sue Gorman, President, New England School of Acupuncture.  This first board position led to a second board aligned with her skills as a financial practitioner, the Boston Chapter of Financial Executives International (FEI).  Stephanie Sonnabend, Co-founder and Chair, 2020 Women on Boards, joined her first public company board, Century Bank, while president of Sonesta Hotels.  Century got a “two-fer” with Stephanie, a board member with expertise in the hospitality industry, an important segment for the bank, and also a director who added diversity.  Emily Walt, Director of Investor Relations, Carbonite, Inc. let her passion for networking guide her first board position.  She said, “I joined Ellevate because I wanted to help women succeed in business; it’s very important to me.”

In terms of responsibilities, the panelists explained that not only is each board  structured differently, but also there are different roles within a board.  For example, Emily also serves on the board of her professional organization, the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) where roles include Treasurer, Programming, Membership, Communications and Sponsorship.  As chair of the Sponsorship Committee, Emily’s responsibility covers “the care and feeding of our sponsors.”  Stephanie, as chair of Century Bank’s audit committee,  helps ensure financial integrity within the highly regulated banking industry.  In her role as president of FEI, Sue explained she makes sure her all-volunteer board knows how much their work is appreciated.  “I spend a lot of time sending out ‘atta boys’.”  

Just as roles vary widely, so too does the time commitment.   Sue estimates she sometimes spends 10 hours a week overseeing FEI activities given the size of the board, the number of members and the full event calendar.  Stephanie can spend 2 or 3 days at a time preparing and attending quarterly board meetings with additional time spent on monthly calls.   Emily advised board candidates to understand the commitment prior to joining a board.  She said, “Make sure you know in advance what is expected so that neither party is disappointed. And if you’re recruiting for a board, it’s important to provide a realistic overview to the candidate.”

One aspect the panelists were in agreement on was the benefit of board service.  Each said that board service had helped not only with time management and operational discipline, but also in working with a broad range of people.  In addition, the panelists noted that board service can be a great balance to the demands of day-to-day work.  “There were days when I was feeling pretty beat up at the office,” Stephanie commented, “and then I would attend the board meeting and my equilibrium would be restored because once again my input was appreciated.”  “I agree,” said Sue, “Board service is a great affirmation of confidence and competence. “ 

Interested in learning more about board service?  Here are resources recommended by the speakers:

The Boston Club Women executives and leaders in the Northeast; a resource for board recruiters

Idealist Find volunteer and non-profit opportunities

BoardProspects  The online boardroom recruitment destination

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