Developing greater board diversity is something most museum CEOs and Board Chairs yearn to accomplish, and yet many museums struggle to make incremental changes to their boards’ compositions. How can museums continue to increase greater representation on their boards? And, as museums diversify board membership, will onboarding processes require change as well? In this webinar, the first installment of Big Answers from Experts: A Series on Board Excellence, join Pamela Reeves and Brickson Diamond, experienced non-profit board members and board colleagues, as they share how they are working together to increase diverse board representation and their best experiences onboarding new members.
Meet the Speakers:
Pamela Reeves is Senior Fellow in International Affairs and Public Policy at Brown University, and an international development and policy strategist who advises governments, foundations, and companies. Reeves is a Trustee of Brown University, where she chairs the Governance and Nominating Committee, serves ex officio on the Nominating Committee, and is a member of the Advisory and Executive, Risk and Audit, and Academic Affairs Committees. She is a member of the Board of Governors of the John Carter Brown Library, where she chairs the Nominating Committee and serves on the Executive Committee.
Brickson Diamond is CEO of Big Answers, LLC, which consults on diversity and inclusion strategy for clients, including AAM’s Facing Change initiative. He previously served for five years as COO of The Executive Leadership Council, the preeminent member organization of Black executives in the Fortune 1000. He is a founding board member and chair of The Blackhouse Foundation; a trustee of Brown University where he chairs the Communications, Alumni, and External Affairs Committee; and a trustee of the Middlesex School, where he chairs the board DEI Committee and Tides.
In case you missed it:
The recording and transcript of the next installment in Big Answers from Experts: A Series on Board Excellence is available for AAM members to view:
Recruiting for Museum Board Diversity Webinar (December 2, 2020)
Pamela Reeves (PR):
Yeah, so boards don’t always know where you’re coming from literally. Have you ever been on an education board before? Have you ever been on this kind of board? Boards that don’t take your knowledge base for granted it’s terrific.
I remember one particular conversation at my children’s school about budgeting because budgeting for an educational institute is quite different than budgeting for another kind of institution. I was able to ask detailed questions about endowments and quasi endowments in that stripping. That was really meaningful to me and it made a difference.
Brickson Diamond (BD):
That’s great, and I may answer my own question. [inaudible 00:00:40] my firstborn experience was actually, I would count it as student government in high school. I think that is an interesting frame because we talk about board candidates and we need them to have prior board experience and those elements.
I think that high school experience for me, which was very much Robert’s Rules of Order, super disciplined was probably the best training ground for what boards should be. Unfortunately also high school behavior, but that’s another conversation.
PR: Well you know Brickson if I can answer back to this conversation-
BD: Please do.
PR: … it’s interesting because we’re talking about maybe onboarding, maybe we’re talking about recruiting, but pipeline is a different story. When we’re going to talk I think in this conversation about, how do you broaden your search engine as it were and your networks? Finding people who have experience from high school days, that’s a gold mine.
I mean that’s really interesting and I always think on the boards that I sit on, what can we do to help young people get the experience that they might not already have, maybe not for our board but for boards in general? We sit on boards, we know a lot about it, how can we help them learn about this earlier?
BD: We were also asked to be on many more boards than we can serve, and so thinking about that pipeline and that young supply is critically important. Although I will say and we’re going to be able to play sorry folks, but I think it is important to think about this notion of, who gets to sit at the table? That diversity of perspective is as really diversity of perspective.
Representing different generations can be super valuable, and really do a service for the community more broadly by fast-tracking folks who may not be of the typical age profile. If they get this experience on your board and you treat them well and you engage them fully, they’re ready for the next opportunity. Treating them well I think a lot of that begins with the onboarding process. Can you talk to us about your best onboarding experience?
PR: Sure. I have been fortunate and that I have had more than one very good onboarding experience. I am going to say that, the keys to a great onboarding experience for me has been small groups, personal attention, lots of opportunity to ask questions and to hear thoughtful answers.
I think that the best onboarding experiences I’ve had are not one-off, “Today as orientation day. Let’s meet from 9:00 to 12:00, we’ll give you some lunch and then here’s this much information to read.” That’s not great, but when that’s coupled with, “And then come tomorrow for a meeting.”
In the board that you and I sit on together, there’s chair of the board attention. There’s next month or the next board meeting, we’ll have you meet with the professors to get a sense of actually what’s going on, on campus. I would imagine that something akin to that in the museum world might be to meet the curators or that sort of thing.
You get a high-level governance onboarding, expectations, rules, and regs. Literally, when are the meetings? Which ones do I have to show up to? What is expected of me both in terms of participation, conflict of interest, all those technical things, the science of it, and then the art of it? When we say that it’s an informal dinner, you really have to go and by the way, don’t wear jeans. Right, how would you know?
That part of it and then also the high touch and check-ins. I believe firmly in first-year check-ins for board members. I believe in mentorship. I have just been asked on a board to mentor a relatively well-known man 20 years my senior, big CEO, knows more about boards than I could possibly know but he doesn’t know about this board. I’m his quote, unquote mentor.
It’s a partnership and that kind of partnership going on and through makes all the difference in the world. The relationship part of boards means that every board member should be in touch with every other board member. Whether it’s, “Let’s have coffee,” or, “Let’s discuss this idea.”
Again, one of the most effective things that a board can do for its governance and one of the pieces of highest functioning boards is trust between and among board members and the leadership.
BD: It’s interesting, you know I think about the mentorship piece when you have those board buddies. I would say somebody’s are assigned and somebody’s are chosen, so I can’t use a board buddy. I think that there is that importance in gaining that trust and creating community. That it’s not just these notions of people who sit in the room periodically together, but who are in community on an ongoing basis as you talk about the various touchpoints.
The board we sit down together is 54 people, so it’s not easy to get personal relationships with everybody. Our terms are six years, so can you talk a bit about how you and I’ll just put this out. I mean I feel like on our shared board you come in, in that first year as sort of as fire hose, you just sort of observe. If you aren’t contributing by year three, we feel like you’ve gone off the rails. It should it go faster than that but by year three midterm you should be in full motion.
Can you give us a sense about the pacing that people should think about in terms of the turning on of their board members in terms of their full engagement? When it’s okay for them to be a little bit renascent and reserved?
PR: It’s such a delicate balance because you want to learn this board. Honestly the boards I sit on, some of these people are just so accomplished, but it’s this board. They want to come in and they say, “Yeah, well that’s not how we do it.” Well, that’s not how we do it.
There’s that balance and you want to show respect for the talent that they have and the skills that they have. Then at a certain point, you invariably get the email that says, “I don’t think my skills are being utilized.” Now for some people if they’re not a leader, if they’re not a chair of a committee, they’re unhappy. As you’ve said, we sit on a board with 54 people, there aren’t 54 committees so it’s just not possible.
I think this check-in piece, this you raised your hand in a meeting and made a terrific comment. I would like to understand more about what you said. That can come from the chair, it can come from another board member. It can come from the chair of the committee in which the comment was made, that’s really valuable. Or with this first-year check-in concept, here was your first year, tell us if you have any outstanding questions.
At that point, there are going to have to be very, very big questions because you’ve gotten the detail throughout the year. It may be, how do I participate as a board member? What’s my best pact? What skills do you think I have? I cannot tell you how many people have said over the years, “I don’t know why I’m on this board. I’m excited to be here but of all the people in the world how did I get chosen?” Right?
PR: “What do you see in me?” You’re not always told what they see in you, so sometimes there’s a mystery there. If you can have the communication with the person they might say, “You know, I’m on the academic affairs committee but I’m really good at audit and nobody asked me to be on that committee.” Somebody may say, “Hey, we didn’t know.”
BD: Right, and it’s also a culture thing in some ways. I think that you can have a board where that question mark of why people are there can hang over everyone’s head. It’s not just the new person who doesn’t know, and I think that’s an interesting dynamic.
What I ask when I’m interviewing for a new board is a series of questions around, why do you want me here? What’s your budget size? What are the opportunities? What are the issues? Also, I ask, what’s completely crazy about this group of people? I know and particularly for diverse candidates either by gender, race or ethnicity or age, they can take things personally that aren’t directed to them.
The knowledge of Jim Bob is just crazy and he is going to be crazy all the time. If you don’t prepare people for that, they may be sitting thinking, “Is this just me or is this a thing?” I would like to ask a little bit about the merging the turbulence. How do you think about and particularly your role in managing the governance process on boards and nominating processes as well, how do you think about turbulence for new board members?
PR: You might know that I worked in the State Department, so technically that makes me a diplomat. Again, everything is about art and science. Governance is everything. Any board is a governing board, so you need to stay true to your governance principles. There are a lot of things that you’re not allowed to do as a governor of a board or of a body.
Those things you can’t be afraid to talk about. You can’t be afraid to say, “Hey Brickson, you need to answer emails within 24 hours,” if that’s an expectation of your board, “we haven’t heard from you.” Or, “Hey, we know that not everybody has the same financial capacity, every board says please make this your priority. Whatever that means to you, we noticed you haven’t given. We would love for you to be able to participate at any level.” There’s certain things that you just can’t be afraid to say. You’re governing and you’re keeping everybody on track.
The other conversations of course are harder. Are they a team player? Do they speak over people? I want to be very clear that as a woman, believe me, I know about being spoken over. I’m sorry to say that, that’s true in almost every board.
Is there any sort of unpleasantness of however you would define that? Anything negative that you witnessed? I only sit with a certain person or people. I don’t come to the this, I don’t go to the that. Whatever it is on your board that’s an issue.
There is a generosity of spirit that I think is a requirement of governance, and I think that when we can all talk to each other and when I can say to you, “Hey, Brickson, I saw you speak to somebody that way,” or, “You excluded this person,” or whatever it is, if I can say that to you and you don’t have hard feelings, you’re listening, we’re doing a great job of harnessing those ups and downs.
I’ve recommended to boards, let’s make it a requirement that we have a one-year check-in every year. That way if you’re expecting it, you don’t feel punished and you can say, “We’re going to ask everybody on the board a series of questions at your one-year check-in.” Everybody’s going to be asked the same questions. Did you participate? How do you feel about your fellow board members? Are you comfortable? Do you feel included? Do you feel included that’s in a way that is optimizing what you feel your contributions are? That’s a dangerous question because I might not feel your skills and talents are optimized in a way that you feel that, but it’s there to ask.
BD: Yeah, that’s fantastic, so I want to go back to your diplomacy and in your role as a diplomat. Thinking about the places in the world where you serve on boards or are engaged, or even places you’ve worked from the senior, most senior halls of the State Department to war-torn countries. What are the best practices that you think you’ve learned that have been most surprising coming into those spaces?
PR: Not surprising to me but I think surprising to many people, everybody’s the same. Everybody has the same insecurities, the same concerns. They present them differently.
I’m on the Vice Chancellors Advisory Council at the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda. I like the way it runs, but the board is hugely international. Some are from Rwanda, some are from America, some are from Europe, so it’s very international. We don’t all have a common thread and a common expectation of process.
I suggested to the Vice-Chancellor that we run our advisory committee meeting. First that we have an in-person meeting for whoever could make it in a neutral city and one we could get to, I didn’t mean Switzerland. Also, that we have an agenda because a lot of times people who aren’t either Type A like I am or serve on the kinds of boards I serve on don’t think you necessarily need an agenda. They just want to talk.
We had a meeting in New York, we all met in New York, it was so productive. Some people were on the phone, many people were in person, so productive. People who had never met each other before just, we do Zoom calls, we’ve always done Zoom calls, were able to interact which is an amazing opportunity. I remember going to the ribbon cutting in Rwanda a year and a half ago, only a few people could make it obviously from other countries.
Seeing it and seeing each other really helped me understand this culture of internationalism, I’m not sure that’s the right word, that this particular board works with as opposed to another board. I will say that you cannot make assumptions and you can never make assumptions without people’s knowledge. That is something that I have also learned.
That you don’t have to becoming from… I used to work in all over Central America, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, whatever it is, Panama. Poland and Hungary when the wall fell, Liberia, Haiti, Latin America, Caribbean, Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Middle East. It can be New York to Washington, it doesn’t have to be a dramatic context change.
It’s that, why would you know about how a board that deals with girls education in Maasai, Kenya which is a board I’m on, why would you know how that works, unless, you are the expert in that. Why would you know how a university board works versus a synagogue board or a church board, why? You cannot take that for granted.
BD: Yeah, I think as well that from my perspective the most valuable board experience is working on a non-functioning board, a dysfunctional board. You get to see so many of those bad behaviors and structural challenges that then give you an eye for how to make things right. In some ways the best CEO, the higher one is the one who’s watched something fail. You’re basically buying your knowledge of all their mistakes and all their wrongdoings in terms of missteps.
I think that global perspective of knowing the variety between places and things is just is skill. I mean you go back to that early days on the board and I do want to come to our shared board experience. Where we had a huge overhaul of our onboarding process, but that was a monumental pillar of an event but then we had to leave after it. I’d be curious about the after, this huge transition. I think you’ve talked about some of the tweaks and changes.
Can you give a sense of how you took that on as successor to a board member who had imminently been on? I think she had been on 19 years. She said that when she joined the board she wasn’t married, she was leaving the board and she had a kid in college.
Now here you come as wonderful looks I think you are, but can you talk a bit about how you approached this new space in your own voice in the seat and have put your own fingerprint and observations into work on this effort?
PR: I came in when so much good work had been done, so much as you say change. By the way, nobody likes change, that’s just true. A major, I’m trying not to use the word upheaval, but I guess a huge sea change had happened.
PR: Some very wise people before me had decided that it’s not just that we needed to focus on what I would call governance. We needed to focus on the health of the board as a whole and the way we interact. Between that moment, and I was not on the board at that moment and now, a lot of people had a lot of very good ideas.
Now, not all good ideas can work in a given situation, we know that. There may be excellent ideas but we can’t execute on them and that’s true for my ideas and other people’s ideas. It was clear what was needed by the kind of change that had taken place, so we now have an annual assessment of the board, a self-assessment. It’s very tempting to add things every year, but we have kept it pure I will say. In that, for longitudinal measurement reasons, we ask the same questions every year. We resist the temptation to tinker.
What I have done this year is ask people to take those comment boxes seriously, because it’s all choose your number kind of thing with ability to answer in these open-ended ways. I think that texture is very important, you find every number is a story. That self-assessment is going to be a valuable tool, it’s already proven to be a valuable tool and over the years we’ll really see changes.
We do exit interviews and we take them seriously. We have a series of questions and principles about them that we share with the exiting people. We have the governance committee, we have a sub-committee to do exit interviews. We have the same set of questions every year.
Though they are administered in a subjective way, a person asks you the questions and you have a conversation. There’s always a tone as opposed to a piece of paper. We feel we still have a standard set of questions and we can compare answers over time. Sometimes those exit interviews surprise us, and that makes me sad because the person never said anything.
BD: They’re six years in.
PR: For six years, which is what has led me to advocate for more often check-ins. Right?
PR: Or the person seemed unhappy but turns out wasn’t, that’s also a surprise in a strange way. Then we have these first-year interviews that are check-ins. Again, standardized that we can ask people over and over again.
The other thing is we have beefed up our, I think you call it onboarding, we call it orientation practices. We right away invite the new board members to meet with just the president and the chair of the board. They have that initial private meeting.
Now chances are they’ve spoken to one of them already, and they, “Would you like to be on the board? How are you feeling?” This is the first official and we do it as a group. Whether it’s onboarding of three board members or 12 board members, it’s a group event. Breakfast, lunch, I don’t know what it is.
We then move into the formal onboarding orientation, that’s an opportunity for every committee chair to talk with, I think we do it in a breakfast format, to talk with the new board members in a relaxed atmosphere and explain, “This is what my committee does. You see me, so now you know who I am and also let me tell you about the committee.” The formal that you can read on the web part of the committee, and then the more personal, “Here’s how we really do it.”
Then we keep going. We have informal dinners. We have formal dinners. We are inclusive. I mean these are the kinds of changes I think that make all the difference in the world.
BD: Yeah, absolutely. That’s fantastic and I think the benefit and someone who’s coming to the end of my term in that board, I see the transformation. It’s just a very different experience to everybody. It’s challenging because we are a part of a community that is continuous, which I hope all these organizations are.
I think every museum hopes to have a continuous relationship with a board member that starts with their first visit, it ends unfortunately with the planned gift. [inaudible 00:24:43] want to be engaged, but for us we’ve gone to school there, we’ve raised our kids there. We’ve been in a community so there’s this continuous piece that you are a part of at this highest, highest level. You just want to make sure that you’re enriching your relationship.
You talked about this variety of perspective and I do want to talk about and not get short shift to the sourcing of new board members and deeply in the diversity frame. Facing Changes the effort at AAM that my firm supports in identifying diverse members across five cities. We’re trying to find a new pull or add to the pull of board members.
I think about that a lot and quite candidly you and I talk about it a lot on the board we’re on. We talk about diversity constantly, thinking about how do you improve it? Can you give us a sense of how this is showing up in the other places? You’re working on boards particularly in Africa, particularly globally, how is this diversity question showing up in the recruitment side?
PR: Great. I want to talk about that and I just want to add one more thing to the last piece.
PR: Which is that we’ve also made great strides and I think this works in one form or another for any organization in growing and growing our connection to our merry tie corporation numbers, it’s so important. Also, with our alumni association in the academic board that you and I sit on.
PR: Hugely important. Okay, so about sourcing of board members, so it is true that humans rely on their own networks. We tend to group together with people we are most comfortable with.
Now, most comfortable with doesn’t always mean they look like us or they come from the same place, but people we’re comfortable with. Maybe it’s women with women. Maybe it’s, whatever it is. When I went to college it was, why did the football players all sit in the same table? Well, they have a lot to talk about, they are all football players so there’s that.
As we go up the ladder, that becomes dangerous because we self-replicate and we know that diversity makes us smarter. You don’t have to believe me that you can read the Scientific American, there’s an article with that title and we know why. Difference of perspectives, we challenge each other. It turns out when we’re angry and we don’t like the different perspective, it causes us to think better. There’s all sorts of reasons why it is great to have multiple perspectives.
Now, on a board, you’ve got different challenges. Many boards are made up of donors. There’s even a give or get, that’s one kind of board that’s going to be hard because people who have accumulated capital overtime tend to look a certain way or have had the opportunity to accumulate capital.
None of this is universally true, I’m making generalizations. There are boards that require that we have one alum, one person from the Southern region, the Northern region, whatever that is. You need to think about what your board requires and what you need.
If you believe and you can convince your board members that diversity makes us smarter, then it is worth looking for young people if you’re an older board. It is worth looking for gender diversity, and I want to say something that makes people crazy when I say it, which is, do not fall into the proxy trap.
PR: Just because I’m a woman doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any different than the profile you’re trying to get away from. I’m just a proxy for that profile, so you need to think about that. You really want diversity of thought, you really want that.
A lot of people ask me for my expertise in governance to be on boards, so turns out that’s diverse because people don’t know about government. I love governance and people think that’s a little weird sometimes, but it’s just true. I’m on a board where I’m actually the global development specialist, even though it is a global board for global issues. They had chosen to go the donor route and so they have finance people and whatever. They have people that have resources and they were happy to have me on without those resources because I serve a diverse perspective role and I work hard at it.
I think asking all of your board members to think deep and think hard about their networks, and to go explore some of the pieces parts of their networks that they might have thought were not relevant for the board, is a great way to do it. I am reminded by the way of a story that Christine Lagarde, the former head of the IMF had said, she’s hysterical.
Talking to global bankers and they say, “Oh Christine, I’m sorry I would like to put a woman on the board of my financial institution but I can’t find any qualified one.” That’s like tear your hair out. Christine Lagarde opens up her pocketbook or whatever she carries and pulls out the list she always carries with her and hands it over.
PR: We all have that list. Remember one of our politicians got in trouble once for saying I had binders full of women.
BD: Yes, indeed.
PR: Here’s the reality, we all have files in our head and thinking, “You know that guy would be great in this role.” Or, “I know this person from there, he would be great in that role.” I’ll tell you another very funny story, it’s personal.
I have a son who’s 20 years old, he’s freshman, just finished his freshman year of college and he has taken up bird watching. He finds this very exciting. Everybody has a new hobby during COVID.
PR: Like all young people, he’s on the internet constantly and he tells me last week, he says, “So I want to tell you what I did.” I said, “I’d be glad to hear what you did.” He said, “I was looking at the Audubon Society’s website and it says they’re looking for new board members, so I’ve made myself a candidate.” I thought, “The poor Audubon Society.” I mean I love my son and he’s great but they’re going to look at this and just say, “Who is this 20-year-old boy?” It’s kind of fascinating because they’re going to be surprised because it never occurred to them.
BD: No. Now is he the same son who was the food blogger in DC who was my Sherpa for all food in the DC Metro area?
PR: Indeed he is.
BD: Yes, that’s a very special young man. Hiding in plain sight because if you need to eat in DC, him he’s your guy for years in high school. There are catalyst stories of you being dragged along to events just because you were drinking age and they probably needed you there instead of him so he could choose their food and review it.
BD: I would like to talk a bit about the kinds of questions that prompt. Thinking about that list of people we would all have in our virtual purse or backpack, and this is a case study because you and I are in constant conversation about candidates for the board.
Recently we came off of a call and to be honest we are in constant communication you and I through board meetings with another person who has since termed off. It’s not like a sporadic conversation, it’s just a constant conversation.
We were talking about a particular leadership pipeline, and because of that conversation, I thought of four or five names of people that I’d never thought of before in this context the conversation you and I have been having for years. I think it’s curious and I wonder what commentary you’d make on that trying to shift in perspective that allows for the opening up of new ideas of, who’s possible?
PR: First of all nobody has ever accused me of not being straight forward, so there’s a little bit of that. Like I am very happy to say to you, and again, we have a relationship so I think I know what I can say and what I can’t say. In your case, I think I can say anything.
BD: Pretty much.
PR: To be able to say, “I’ve been thinking about this,” or, “We’ve been talking about this,” let’s get the rubber to meet the road. Who do you know? Think about it, think harder. We’re talking about diversity. We need diversity of thought, we need diversity of backgrounds, we need racial, gender, ethnicity. We represent as a board a very diverse population. Is that population represented on the board?
Let’s have a conversation, what moves this board, whatever it is? I know what moves the board well I’m the development specialist. I, overtime there I’m making suggestions about foreign nationals to be on the board, who live in America that should be on this board. It’s a case that for various reasons it can be a hard case to make, but I believe it to be true but I had to say it.
You and I can have as many conversations as we want, but until board leadership, whoever that is… You know that in every board no matter who the technical leadership is, there’s always another leadership. Whoever that leadership is on your board, they need to be able to hear it and like everything else on the board, that is a process.
I have had on boards I won’t name, I have had private chats, coffees with chairs to say, “I’ve been thinking about the diversity on our board. I’m wondering, here’s the map of what we currently have, let’s look to the future. What is that map going to look like in three years, five years? It’s just something we need to talk about and it’s a conversation we need to have starting now.” Then we hope that we never get to crisis.
BD: What say though it’s also the framing, it’s talking to the… I’m just going to be blunt here. Very successful people tend to in my experience have very prescribed ways of thinking. There requires a level of interpretation, both on the part of the communicator to understand that way of thinking and then translating thoughts in the way this person can digest them.
I think there is a notion of understanding that conversation we just discussed in a way that’s accessible to individuals who are in leadership roles. That’s just critical to exercise, it takes more than one person. It takes more than one person, it takes a number of different activities. I would also say that the days are long and the years are short as the saying goes. These conversations don’t all have to happen at once. You can take them at a slower pace and overtime and let natural queues drive the pacing.
It’s fascinating and we’re going to go to questions in a bit, but I would just recount the benefit of all this and the diversity of thought we’ve had any number of challenges pre-COVID on the board we sit on together. One of them is very public, it’s about a healthcare system challenge. We have with tremendous amount of turmoil in the healthcare system in Rhode Island.
I remember our board chair saying that he recalled a conversation where determinacy over Fortune 10 bank, founder and managing partner of a huge private equity firm and a young alumna Ph.D. candidate were the three voices in conversation around this particular issue we were facing. That the person who made the most salient and institution moving forward comment was the Ph.D. candidate.
If the board hadn’t been open to this person’s perspective, to this person’s presence, and set up a seat for her that was not a voted chair in the back or on the side, but a seat at the table. She hadn’t had the presence to be able to have been on board in a way and educated in a way and confident in a way to make the contribution, we wouldn’t have ever been [inaudible 00:38:43] as an institution.
PR: There is a huge burden on leadership to make this work and they need to understand what the benefits and the detractions, the benefits of making it work into tractions if you don’t.
PR: I think right now we’re at a time where there may be a scramble to change the way we do business. I mean we’re having this conversation, I’ve never had this conversation publicly before. The follow-up, the implementation of this conversation on every board is what’s going to make the difference. I think that’s a tremendously important point that you make, I really do.
I will just say this. There are so many, many people in the world and our job is to find them and engage them. Mostly at this point, it’s a question of finding them, and we haven’t found them because we haven’t looked. For me, that’s a pretty simple answer.
BD: That’s great. Let’s open up for questions. I think the team on the AAM side is going to throw some people on the chat with us here. Hopefully, we’ll see some faces. You have questions, I think that we have… Linda Silver is on. Can we see you, Linda? I know you didn’t believe you’d be on camera today, but we’d love to most see and hear from you with your question. There you are, hello?
Linda Silver (LS): Hello, and I pushed the button. I was going to refine that so that it was a nicer question. We’ve been working through AAM’s Facing Change initiative. [inaudible 00:40:33] museums are really bad at having non-white representation on the board, and we’ve done some work and gone from 6% to 22%. I now have a feeling for, we said it outright from [inaudible 00:40:46] check that box, we got there, next.
To your point earlier Pamela, about having a long-range plan for this, how have you tactically done that so that you don’t get stuck in this or get the sense of, “We’re done, we did what we needed to do,”?
PR: I mean it’s the hardest question and everybody I believe…
Everybody has the right motivation in their heart, and everybody believes… I mean if you sit on a non-profit org particularly a museum which the point is to serve the greater good. It’s to demonstrate people’s sovereign collections. To share them with their own people and with other people depending what kind of museum you have and it’s to teach.
What’s bad about that? We think that I’m guessing, you have pretty great people on your board whoever you are, whatever board you’re on. It has to be intentional and it has to be process, and people don’t really like process which is why people laugh when I say I love governance.
Be honest about your weaknesses, where are you falling down? It’s my fault, it’s that committee’s fault, it’s everybody’s fault. If it’s not working, I don’t believe in the blame game but just it’s everybody is falling down.
Let’s believe that as a group, number one, and let’s believe that we can do better. Then let’s set some things into place. New orientation procedures, a board document that is a board expectations document that has everything on it from we expect you to make this your priority giving. I’m on five boards and they all expect me to give my priority giving, but you’ve got to say it. Two, we expect you to be collegial and we expect you to answer emails within 24 hours. Whatever your problems are and then some general guardrails.
Surveys, annual board surveys so nobody thinks it’s personal. Are you enjoying your committee work? Do you feel heard? What would you make change? Now, when you do that you hear all sorts of stuff. You hear, “Actually the chair is not that good, she’s disorganized.” Or, “The staff runs this committee, I don’t even open my mouth.” You could hear all sorts of things.
Think about that, how do you feel about that? Is that a place you need to make change? Does everybody participate at an expected level? Now, when I say expected you need to be generous about that. We are surprised when the CEO of a Fortune 100 or Fortune 50 company comes to every meeting and we should be surprised. Everybody’s equal but, right?
Now, you have to make that clear that you do expect 100% participation and you need to know why that person’s not showing up if that person’s not showing up. This buddy system, whatever you call it, start out with your best board members and best is subjective but you know what I mean. To everybody who’s listening you each know what I mean in your own heads. To be the partners of these new board members because it also helps internally each board member.
You may not be a new board member, but you’re seeing what we’re expecting of our new board members because your colleague is a mentor. Make a plan, stick to it, and explain that this is a governance strengthening piece overtime. You need longitudinal data to measure. You welcome input and you want to hear everybody’s thoughts about how to make improvements because nobody’s perfect.
BD: Right, thanks. Thanks, Linda. Thanks, Pamela. We’re going to go to our next questioner. We’ve got Kara Newport. Kara, will you join us on camera? Oh, Kara went away. We’ve got Linda back. I hope that Kara will come again. I will also just as we wait for Kara to come, talk about this notion of that we’ve got enough on the diversity front a little bit.
I think that the pipeline and looking at the succession in each seat is the next opportunity to say, “All right, so yes we have these folks but what happens?” There’s Kara’s I think desk which is great.
Kara Newport (KN): I’m working on it, I’m working on it. Here we go.
PR: Brickson, can I just build on that for one second?
PR: If you have brought somebody on the board because they are different from other people on the board, that’s the person to ask for who do you know who’s either like you or not like the people you’re seeing here to expand our networks? I think that this notion and you mentioned this Brickson, of young people being on boards, first of all, they have ideas that we don’t even know about. They’re usually great and they’re certainly going to help us. Young people have different ideas than we do about who’s counting and who’s in, so it’s very valuable. Sorry, Kara.
KN: Thanks. I’m Kara Newport, I’m the CEO of Filoli which is a historic housing garden in San Francisco area. My question is about, these are wonderful ideas, fabulous. The mentoring, the initial meeting with the board member, the annual review, informal and formal dinners.
KN: On the boards that you’ve participated in, as a CEO especially in the middle of lots of crisis right now, who does this for you? Who facilitates it for the board? Are there dedicated positions? Does it come through the human resource’s department or through the development department? How have you seen this work especially in a non-university organization, in a smaller, mid-sized organization? How can you translate all of this very important, very good work that we struggle to do for our staff?
This is good work for anybody coming into an organization and that we are really challenged by that. How have you seen it work successfully?
PR: I think it’s a great question because resources are scarce always and one of the scarcest resources is time. Big boards have a staff liaison and they have to do, it’s their job. Let’s put that aside.
Tiny boards usually, I mean I think I’m staff on one of my boards because we all chip in so much. If I say I really think we need a dinner before our board meeting, I might have to host it. Or I might have to explain to any staff member, it could be the chief of staff, it could be the admin. Here’s how it works, I’m going to take my time to explain.
Here’s how it works, I need you to get a restaurant with one long table. I need there to be a cocktail out. Why would a young person know about that, right? He or she wouldn’t, and I need it to be accessible. I need it to be interesting enough so that people want to come to the informal meeting. There’s different layers of how to make that work.
I think so much of it has to be generated by the board member. You’re the CEO, so if I come to you and I say, “Look, I’m the head of governance or nominating, I would really like this to happen. I know it’s important for you and your staff. I’ll chip in some of my time but let me tell you why it’s going to make your life easier in the long run. Because you’re going to get a more cooperative, more relationship woven in board. It’s going to make all the difference in the world.”
You may say, “Okay, let’s try it once. I’ll devote this kind of assistant. I’ll devote however much it cost in your account to have a dinner,” if your board member doesn’t throw the dinner and offer to pay for it him or herself, which is what they should do. “Let’s try it once,” and I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes.
I don’t know how you do your board meetings, let’s say they’re one day, three times a year. I don’t know if you have two-day board meetings. If they start at 9:00, fine. If they start at 12:00, better. Let’s have a breakfast before. Not in the room of the board, but in a different room or where at the hotel where everybody’s staying in or at the whatever it is. Let’s have cocktail hour afterwards or let’s have if you can really do it, cocktail hour the night before fantastic.
Because a lot of this is new for a lot of boards and a lot of staff, I think some of this good governance and best practice work has to come from your board. I have been in a really enviable situation where a staff has come to me and has said, “I think we can do better. I’ve been reading up on governance and with trepidation, I am coming to you. I asked my boss if I could and my boss said yes, but what do you think?”
Then I usually pull some books off my shelf, they are actually right there. They’re board books and board sources and best practices, but the bottom line is it doesn’t take a lot of work to make the relationship strong. If you are teetering particularly on new members who have no idea what the heck is going on… I walked into a board where I walked into a building I had never been in before, I had just seen it in Manhattan from afar. I didn’t even know they had board rooms, I will not say what it was.
There’s like a secret password. I go up, I walk into a room because I had asked to be in the board, I had said yes. I knew about it, I had done my research so it was not a surprise. I knew the man who was the chair and it’s a dozen white men. I thought I had entered like an old Dutch painting. I was like, “What’s happening?” Everybody looked at me and didn’t know what to say.
Then my first board meeting, so you tend not to talk, I had to talk because they were talking about governance and they were wrong. Diplomatically I say, “May I just ask one question?” Because God forbid you should tell anybody anything, you have to ask a question. Anyway, by lunchtime and they were all older, men were coming up to me and patting me on the shoulder, which I think was a good sign. It’s unclear. Who knows what they thought, but it wasn’t so welcoming at the beginning but I felt good about my presence there. Then they made it easier for me, and that kind of a lot of work, I think I diverged a little bit but you get my point.
BD: Yeah, that’s fantastic and I know that Kara’s in wine, not far from wine country. I think people’s wine collection should certainly be opened up, it’s for board pre-dinners. It would be a fabulous idea in Woodside.
Let’s go to Kelly for our last question because we want to get you out on time. Kelly, welcome, thanks for being with us and what’s your question?
KN: My question is, our board has never, ever done a self-assessment. I was really interested in the great questions structure of it. What you felt was a good example of an instrument that we could use.
PR: I think you ask in general. It’s a great question and I’m trying to think if there are board books that give examples. There may be. Generally they fall into your role on the board and your committee work because that opens up a whole host of questions.
Are you satisfied? Is the committee moving forward? Are your skills used? Do you have the staff’s support? Sort of neutral questions and the questions they’re really good at. Then the board itself question, do you feel that you’re a part of the board? I’m not sure you would ask that question, but are there too many meetings, not enough meetings? Are they long enough? Do you feel that there’s enough opportunity to interact with the staff or the president or the chair or the whatever it is? Then there’s that other piece about culture and that’s unique to your board.
A lot of that is, do you feel that we are broadening our view enough? That we are inclusive of perspectives enough? It’s always one is not satisfied and five is this is the best thing since last bread.
PR: Then those boxes for additional comments, read that. Of course the trick about self-assessment, you also have to act on it.
BD: Feedback that you heard the comments. Someone has put in the chat, “The Museum Trustee Association has some terrific tools for self-assessment, board assessments, and board leadership,” so that is a place to go.
I think we’ve reached our time limit. I want to be respectful for everyone for being with us today. Pamela, you’re my favorite.
PR: No, you.
BD: I think you knew that already, and I’m so grateful that you said yes to doing this. I trust that you all in AAM land have enjoyed it as much I have. I’ve not had the GIF interaction that I usually have with Pamela, so that was deficient. Maybe some other time you can see my GIF library.
PR: If I could just thank you Brickson and thank AAM. This has been a terrific opportunity and you’re all super interesting.
BD: Yes, and we’ll tell the story far and wide. We will speak of this and we will be kind, so thank you. Andrea, back to you.
Andrea: Thank you, thanks to both of you, Pamela and Brickson, what an amazing conversation. So many great nuggets and I wish we could continue the conversation into the afternoon. I wanted to thank you both. I want to thank the participants today.
You’ll be getting a recording of this so you can get all those, the nuggets of wisdom that Pamela and Brickston shared in recording hopefully by the end of the week. Great conversation, thanks so much. Hopefully, we can have Brickson and Pamela again to continue the conversation. Thanks, everybody.