Heather M 2022 Q&A: Board Work

[Note: There will be 3 Q&A posts total, covering all the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. Candidates were limited to 300 words per answer.]

What are a couple of major issues that you know the OTW Board struggles or has struggled with, and how would you personally act to avoid them if elected?

I think the biggest issue I’ll face as a Board member is what I’ve heard others speak about before: the desire to step in and take control. I’m a “fixer.” I see a problem, I want to fix it. But I also know that I’m hoping to be elected to an advisory board, not to the role of Supreme Ruler of the OTW.

In order to avoid my own tendency to lead a group I should actually be following, I plan to pay careful attention to what is in and out of scope for me. Once I’ve defined my lane, it’s a lot easier for me to stay in it.

After that, I’ll be able to deal with the constraints of my role in a very similar way to how I deal with them at work. When I need to vent, I’ll speak with a fellow Board member. If I have an idea that I think has merit, I’ll present it to the relevant committee for their consideration. But when it comes right down to it, they run their own shows, so they make the decisions.

What do you feel is the area where the OTW is currently most lacking, and what plans or ideas do you have for improvement in that area?

Right now, I think it’s difficult for people to look at the Committee Chair role and want to sign up for it. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think there’s a bit of a black box around what Chairs actually do.

I spoke about this a lot in my original platform post, but I think having more internal documentation would really help. I recommend creating both roles and responsibilities descriptions and also “how to” type documents. These could be used both to support new Chairs and to let volunteers know whether becoming a Chair is something that would interest them.

We currently have “Chair Track” roles for volunteers who are already in the process of training to become a Chair, but I think there’s a lot of potential for “Acting Chair” roles, too. Getting someone into the role as a kind of vacation coverage when a Chair needs a break (or a vacation!), or even if they just need help getting through a particularly difficult or busy period of time for their committee. This would give people the chance to “test drive” what it would be like to take on the role for a year – or several years.

There’s already a good basis of mentorship culture happening in a lot of committees, and I see this as one more way that we could expand on that. It would help generate more interest in leadership and it might also lift some of the weight off of Chairs’ shoulders when there’s a lot going on. We’re a lot bigger as an Organization than we used to be, so it might be time to spread out the responsibilities a bit more.

The Board’s lack of executive control over all aspects of OTW operations has always severely limited its internal power. How do you think the Board should act if there are strong disagreements with a committee chair’s vision for a task or project?

I think that depends on where the disagreements are coming from. If the disagreements are coming from outside of that particular committee, I think the Board could share them with the Chair for their awareness and perhaps discuss the possibility of communicating back to the disagreeing parties.

A lot of the time, you can defuse a situation by explaining the root causes of an issue and the reasoning behind the current state of things, then providing the other party with an outline of a plan for the future. The disagreeing party may only have part of the picture and once they have a more complete view of the situation, it might be resolved.

If the disagreements are coming from within the committee, however, I think the conversation probably needs to go a bit deeper. Is it just a communication issue around the details of the situation? Is it a personality conflict? Are the disagreeing parties bringing up points that the Chair should consider before moving forward with their original plan?

In both scenarios, I’d be a messenger and a facilitator rather than an actor. I can’t make the Chair’s decision for them, and I don’t lead their committee, but what I can do is mediate a conversation if one needs to happen.

The board appears to be reverting back to 2015 and is once again pushing out volunteers and chairs that they don’t agree with and/or get along with. How would you support fairness and impartiality in handling personnel issues if you noticed fellow board members being neither fair nor impartial.

I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the current situation you’re referencing. I also wasn’t a volunteer in 2015 (although I’ve heard snippets of what happened that year), so I can’t really address the first part of your question.

If I thought my fellow Board members were being unfair and impartial, I would start by investigating the situation. What happened? Who was involved? Is there a history between those individuals that might lead to unfair treatment? I’d speak to all parties involved, as well, to try to get all sides of the situation to fully understand what had happened.

Once I understood, I would do my best to mediate. If I thought Board members were being unreasonable, I’d speak to them personally and individually to see if I could either help them find their impartiality or convince them to recuse themselves from the situation.

I don’t expect a situation to get this dire, but if I fundamentally disagreed with the actions the Board was about to take and I thought they were overstepping their roles and unfairly treating a fellow volunteer, I would most likely need to resign from my position and leave the OTW. That’s not the sort of organization I joined and it’s not the organization I’ve been volunteering with for almost three years now.

Earlier this year the OTW’s volunteers got targeted in a malicious attack. What do you think should be changed to keep something like this from happening in the future?

Many things have already changed. I won’t outline them here because the thing about security measures is: they get less secure when you tell people about them.

Generally speaking, I think volunteers should have access to resources and training around online safety and keeping their identities separate. This should include information around what to do if they worry they may be in danger of doxxing or other types of harassment.

A lot of information was being shared across committees in the immediate aftermath of the attack, and I want to make sure that that information is centralized in a location where all volunteers can access it. I also want to facilitate some best practices sharing between the different committees. This would be an opportunity for each group to share what protections they had in place before the attacks, what they adopted after the attacks, and which particular tweaks worked best for different scenarios.

We have already documented what to do in case a similar attack happens in the future, at whatever scale. The Board and Committees have also implemented a number of changes to our internal processes and tools to ensure that the likelihood of it happening again is much smaller. I think it’s worthwhile for us to do a regular audit of our security measures to assess any weaknesses and implement any new improvements we’ve discovered since the last audit.

Do you think OTW needs to improve external transparency? For instance I’ve seen people who think the recent appointment of a volunteer to find a Diversity Consultant means there was no work done on the subject before that appointment, which as an internal volunteer I know isn’t true.

I would love to be able to share out more of what we do! I think it comes down to finding a way to do it.

As with everything else in the OTW, we need to prioritize the work that gets done. Sometimes that means that important things need to wait because even more important things have to come first. Sometimes it means that we need a system in place before we can do the thing we want to do.

In this case, sharing more information with the public would require more work effort from both the Communications committee and the Translation committee. Recruiting more people for those teams would require more work effort from the Volunteers & Recruiting committee.

All of this is part of the current Vision Statement and Goals prepared by the Strategic Planning committee, and I’m eager to do my part in making that priority a reality.

Do you think moving towards hiring employees is a key structural priority for the OTW? If not, why not? If so, what do you think is a major obstacle keeping this from happening?

This point is also in the current Strategic Plan. It is definitely a key priority for the OTW and one that I strongly support.

My understanding, as someone who is not an HR professional, is that there are a few obstacles – or at least questions – that need to be addressed:

  • The OTW is an international organization. Would we only hire employees based in the United States? Or would we hire internationally?
    What are the labour laws in the various nations we hire in?
  • What does fair compensation look like when the cost of living and exchange rate are vastly different in two different global regions, but both people are doing the same job?
  • What would our benefits structure look like and how is that impacted by international labour laws?
  • The actual cost of an employee is something like 1.3 times their salary. If we pay, for example, $60,000/yr, that means the cost of the employee that we need to budget for is actually $78,000/yr. Is our current fundraising model robust enough to guarantee that cost, year over year, for each employee?

I know that there has already been work done on this, and I’m sure some, if not all, of these questions have been answered. However, since I’m not a member of the committees doing that work, I can’t really say how far along in the process things are.

[Note: All questions from members and candidate responses appear in the form they were submitted and represent only the views of the individual who wrote them. Questions and responses are not endorsed by the Organization for Transformative Works.]

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