Jessica Steiner began her fanfiction career by writing her first Star Trek novel in middle school. By the late 90s, she discovered that she wasn’t the only one doing this kind of thing and entered fandom, initially writing in Gundam Wing and Weiβ Kreuz and moving on from there. She’s always been a fandom wanderer, exemplified by her having written in over 30 fandoms just since finding a home at the AO3. Currently her primary fandoms are Homestuck and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
As a day job, Jessica runs a legal aid family law practice, primarily working with victims of domestic violence and people with serious mental health and drug addiction issues. When not doing that, she’s working on building a platform as a professional writer and writing coach. She joined the OTW in 2012 and served on the Strategic Planning Committee.
1) Why did you decide to run for election to the Board?
After spending the past two years on the Strategic Planning Committee, I feel I have a good basis of knowledge and understanding of where the Org has been, where it is now, and where stakeholders would like to see it go in the future. Now that the current Strategic Planning process is beginning to wind down, I would really like to help move the OTW to the next level in a measurable way. Joining the Board seemed like the best way to do that.
2) What skills and/or experience would you bring to the Board?
In my day job as a family lawyer, I work with people who are going through crisis, such as victims of domestic violence and people with serious addiction and mental health issues, every day. I’ve developed both patience and empathy while managing to maintain a level of emotional distance that allows me to help guide them through some of the worst times in their lives while remaining level-headed myself. This, along with my training in mediation and conflict resolution, will be invaluable, given some of the ongoing issues that we see throughout the Org. (I elaborate on these in questions 5 and 6.)
In addition, I have years of professional experience with documentation management and training (in my previous life working in quality assurance at pharmaceutical companies), as well as people management, in my position as the head of a small legal firm.
3) What goals would you like to achieve during your term?
I would like to personally assist in turning the Board into a cohesive team that knows what they are supposed to do and has the tools to do it – a Board that can lead the OTW into becoming an organization that we can be proud to recruit our friends to work with. I would like to see the Strategic Plan finalized and executed, and for at least the majority of the goals to be completed during my tenure on the Board. Specifically, I would like to take part in developing a system to ensure that all committees and workgroups have the resources and support to achieve their goals.
4) What is your experience of the OTW’s projects and how would you collaborate with the relevant committees to support and strengthen them? Please include AO3, TWC, Fanlore, our Legal Advocacy work and Open Doors, though feel free to emphasize particular areas you’re interested in.
During my time on Strategic Planning, we have surveyed and reviewed all of the different OTW projects, so I feel I have a pretty good grasp on each of them. As I mentioned earlier, I really want to work with each of them in a systematic way to ensure that they all have the resources to accomplish their goals. For example, I’m excited about recent dialogue we had with Legal about expanding their advocacy to allow non-lawyers to help out in some ways, while I know Fanlore is in need of more staffing resources.
Every committee has their own unique needs, and the Board can’t be everything to everyone. We should be a resource and support to the extent that we can be, while trusting each committee or set of committees to do their work both autonomously and collaboratively as needed, without top-down micromanagement.
5) Choose two topics/issues that you think should be high priority for the OTW, both internally and externally. What do these topics mean to you and why do you value them? How will you make them a part of your service?
The absolute most important priority is sustainability. This goes into training, staffing, and documentation – we need to create the foundational infrastructure to make sure that no single person is unable to take time for themselves if they need it, and no committee will ever fall apart when they hit a speedbump.
The second is communication. Not only is it important to improve the basic lines of communication between the committees and reduce silo’ing, which happens when different committees work too much in isolation from one another. I particularly want to see the Org leave behind some of the bad feelings and history that unfortunately have built up. I believe that, moving forward, we should build a culture of trust, forgiveness and empathy for one another. We’re all fans. We’re all doing this out of love, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that sense of joy and passion we have for fandom. We might not all agree all the time, but we should be free to express our opinions without fearing retaliation. On the flip side, we should all remember that when you hear or see something that you don’t like, it doesn’t necessarily come from a place of malice.
6) What do you think the key responsibilities of a/the Board are? Are you familiar with the legal requirements for a US-based nonprofit board of directors?
Right now I believe that we have to face the reality that our Board is currently an executive Board and is in a position of leadership of the Org. The Board’s main responsibility is to be the engine, driving the OTW forward in the direction that we want to go. The Board should be in tune with our vision as an organization, as well as with all of the committees’ needs and where they all fit within that vision.
The Board is not in a position to do the day-to-day work, and I get the sense that our Board has been placed in that position a bit too often recently.
Yes, though I am not American and haven’t worked in a non-profit, I am familiar with the legal requirements and the duty of care that Board directors hold towards the organization.
7) How would you balance your Board work with other roles in the OTW, or how do you plan to hand over your current roles to focus on Board work?
I plan to step down from Strategic Planning (in any case, a requirement to be on the Board), so I will have the time to devote myself fully to my Board duties. Prior to stepping down, I will be assisting Strategic Planning with a recruitment round and training to ensure that the transition is smooth.