Margaret MacRae – Elections Q&A (Part 4)

12) There has been a lot of discussion and confusion both within and outside the OTW related to the concept of ‘transparency’ and what that means in relation to the work of the Board and the work of the organization as a whole. How would you define transparency in these contexts and what steps would you take both to ensure everyone is clear on what transparency means and to hold the Board and the organization accountable to that definition?

A previous question was all about maintaining confidentiality and now this one is all about transparency. I don’t think that they are mutually exclusive at all. Transparency, to me, means being able to explain each decision that I make. So if I were to vote for one funding proposal but veto another, transparency is being able to say, “Funding proposal A clearly explained why the external training course will develop staff skills that committee X needs to realize specific goals. Proposal B did not explain why it’s necessary to hire a contractor on an indefinite basis.” Those are just examples. Transparency also means telling someone, “Hey, I can’t get into that because it’s confidential.” Lots of my suit-job is confidential, and that’s the same for my friends, and there are times where I have to say that to a friend, and they respect that I have to maintain confidentiality. They don’t think that I am doing it to be petty, or because its something bad for them, or anything like that. To me, part of being a Board member is answering questions, but there will be times that I can’t, and I will be transparent about that, too.

13) The OTW has had issues with regards to clashing perceptions of authority and hierarchy between the Board and committees. Staffers and volunteers vocally resist both steps that are perceived as attempts to verticalize the org’s structure and any Board decisions that are understood as top-down orders. What is your perspective on this issue?

I think that the org has taken a lot of missteps with internal management. Some of those steps intentionally alienated people and others were well-intentioned but ended badly. The result is that Board is not trusted. I actually think that staffers and volunteers don’t have a problem with leadership, since many admire and respect the chairs of their committees and other chairs generally. Their problem is with Board. Sometimes it’s just with the idea of a governing committee, which I can respect why people like the idea of leaderless organizations, but we don’t have that at any level, and I don’t think it’s realistic for an org of our size to function without leadership. Other times, it’s the individuals who have held the office, and I can understand why that is, too. I think a lot of the org’s issues with authority stem from the fact that it’s really easy to destroy trust and really hard to rebuild it.

Personally, I hate that the org talks about things in terms of “can’t, won’t, no!” We started seven years ago as a kind of crazy but cool idea, and we have grown into something incredible. We are proof that that you can realize audacious ideas, set huge goals, and crush expectations. I think that a lot of this “can’t, won’t, no!” comes from the org’s distrust in leadership. It’s scary to take risks and and try new things under the best circumstances, and when you don’t think that the Board has your back, it’s a thousand times worse. But it’s hard for the Board too. I want to help the org move forward and conquer new challenges, and that’s incredibly hard when staff and volunteers are going “can’t, won’t, no!”

14) How do you see your role on the Board in relation to OTW staffers and volunteers and OTW members? How do you plan to reconcile different staffers’ visions for the org? How do you think a Board member should act when staffers disagree with decisions that are under Board purview?

Fundamentally, I think that my role as a Board member is to listen to the entire OTW community. There is no way that I can make an informed decision on Board or represent the org if I do not know what the people who make up the org want. That said, my duties as Board member are to the OTW, not to it’s staffers, volunteers, members, archive users, or the general public. While each of those groups is part of the OTW, I strongly hope that in a hundred years the OTW will still exist and still be defending and promoting fanworks. I know that there are internal disagreements about the direction of the org and the org’s allocation of resources, and that will always be true. In my opinion, it’s the Board’s job to make decisions that ensure the org’s continued growth and stability, which may very well not always be what staffers, committees, members, and the end user want. I think that the Board should act professionally when staffers disagree with a decision, and the Board must explain why it made those decisions and why they support the org’s long-term goals.

15) What do you think are the unique challenges in interacting with a staff comprised entirely of volunteers as opposed to paid staff? How do you plan to navigate this?

We talk a lot in the org about professionalism, and generally I don’t think that our problems with it stem from being an organization made up entirely of volunteers. As an org, we are committed, enthusiastic, and successful, and that is totally because of our volunteers’ commitment, enthusiasm, and determination to create this community. Yes, people drop off the face of the planet, and yes, they can be bad about returning email, and there are miscommunications because of the nature of chats, but all of those issues to me are more problems because we are entirely internet based. Moreover, we as an org can be incredibly harsh to each other, and I, for one, have witnessed things that I would describe as bullying. I don’t think that we do this because we are volunteers, I think we do it because we are separated by screens and pseudonyms. In my suit job, to my face, I have had opposing counsel comment on my physical appearance, make insinuations about my sexuality, in court refer to me by a nickname I don’t even use, and more than once tell a judge I don’t know how to do my job. Yet, the single worst thing another attorney said to me was in an email. I honestly don’t believe that he would have said the things that he did if we had been face-to-face. My point is “professionals” can be jackasses online too.

As for navigating, first, I am going to model better behavior. Honestly, if I find that my first reaction to something in the org is to belittle someone, call them a name, or do anything else that I wouldn’t do if we were sitting in the same room, something is wrong and I need to get to a healthier place. Losing my temper, yelling at someone, or refusing to cooperate doesn’t make me right or superior, it makes me weak and small. Second, I will call people out for doing any of the above or in anyway making the org unsafe for someone. It’s unacceptable under any circumstances, and we should be better than that. Hell, we are better than that.

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