Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Building the Sisterhood of Science

Residential Programs: Successful Intervention Strategies to Encourage Girls to STEM

I am the direct beneficiary of outreach programs to encourage girls to pursue opportunities in the STEM arena.  My participation in two specific programs, NASA's Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program (NASA SHARP) and UC Berkeley's Womyn in Science and Engineering (WISE) residential living program, prepared me to complete a bachelor's degree in environmental science from UC Berkeley.  Gender specific programming is necessary to open the pipeline for more women in the STEM professions.  The earlier you build a girl's confidence in math and science, the further and faster she can go in building her career.  In particular, gender specific residential based STEM programs provide girls with the personal and professional support to build lifelong networks.

In 2001, I was selected to participate in NASA's Summer High School Apprenticeship Research program for women and ethnic minorities.  The program was completely free; room, board, and transportation were provided in addition to a stipend.  For approximately ten weeks, incoming high school seniors were placed in research groups at the University of Michigan.  I worked with Dr. Keolian at the Center for Sustainable Systems to conduct a life cycle assessment of a re-manufactured engine.  It was such an exciting research endeavor!  In addition to lab work, students had a daily morning seminar about STEM careers, site visits on the weekends, and social programming.  The students lived together in college dorms which allowed for intense bonding.  I made lifelong friends and colleagues that continue to support me today.  Early in my career, thanks to NASA SHARP, I developed the skills and confidence in science which ultimately earned me one of the few spots as an out-of-state student at UC Berkeley.

Since I had such a positive experience with NASA SHARP, my father encouraged me to apply to live in Berkeley's WISE dormitory for female students pursuing STEM majors.  Students attended weekly seminars connecting them to STEM faculty and research opportunities.  Many of the students were taking the same difficult math, science, and engineering classes, so we studied together and supported each other through these challenging courses.  I started at Berkeley as a geology major, but the demands of the very hard science courses proved very tough for me.  I considered switching to an easier social science degree, but my girlfriends encouraged me to stick it out in science.  Today, the women I met at WISE continue to be my best friends and support me tremendously in my professional life.

The power of the female bond cannot be underestimated.  As women seek to break the glass ceiling in male dominated fields of science and engineering, they break through more easily when supported by other women, especially their peers.  Residential programs literally provide women the safe space to share their challenges and support each other to overcome hardship.  The informal space of a collegial environment allows the opportunity for conversations that may not arise in more formal programs.  Living together allows women to connect in unique ways.

As advocates of women in STEM explore options to close the gender parity gap, they should consider the power of gender specific residential programs.  Many college campuses have women in science and engineering residential programs.  Advocates can explore how these programs can be enhanced. Where such dorm programs do not exist, companies and philanthropists can consider making long-term capital investments to endow buildings designated for women in STEM.  In addition to college dorms, advocates can create residential programs for high school girls such as summer programs. Building communities of the Sisterhood of Science will provide young women the necessary support systems to excel in their careers.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Silicon Valley: Take on Your Next Challenge of Innovating Diversity in the Workplace

Silicon Valley is the place of endless possibility. The birthplace of new technologies that are directly impacting the way people live around the world. Change moves very fast here, unlike the public policy processes of other powerhouse places like Washington, D.C. In fact, in many regards, the innovation happening here is far ahead of American laws and policies, and actually sets the tone for their creation. Many of the creative geniuses here like to attack a problem quickly, but with an innovative mindset that results in a lasting impact. The most recent obstacle pervasive throughout the Valley is its lack of diversity. However, this challenge is also the Valley's greatest opportunity to continue to reform the way America does business.

In recent months, most of the leading technology companies in Silicon Valley have collectively acknowledged a major challenge their industry is experiencing overall. The tech leaders have publicly acknowledged the lack of diversity in their companies' employees. Moreover and fortunately, these public acknowledgements come with the recognition that this is a serious problem, and that the company is ultimately suffering from its dearth of diversity. Silicon Valley does not run from problems. It attacks them head on and finds the most effective solution. I am eager to see how Silicon Valley innovates diversity in the upcoming months and years. 

Fixing the diversity dilemma has no single solution, and can't be cured with the development of a new app or upgrading a tech product. The solution must be multifaceted and include short-term and long-term strategies. On the whole, tech companies must not only focus on recruitment and retention, but also on how the company overall values its commitment to diversity.

Continue to collect data to get a deep understanding of how the diversity challenge exists in your specific company. Offer employees the opportunity to share candid feedback about their work experience in regards to diversity through regular anonymous surveys or focus groups. Seriously evaluate this feedback and enact what changes are feasible.

Additionally, short term tactics can include enhanced recruitment efforts to find new candidate pools. This may mean partnerships with minority organizations or schools from underrepresented communities. Make special efforts to recruit diverse candidates for upcoming internship programs. This may also look like a revised internal reference system that removes traditional barriers for talented candidates that don't necessarily come from the top schools or other privileged traditional recruitment pools and social networks. Scholarship funds or partnerships with established nonprofits are a great investment.

Short-term Strategies
Immediately, a company can actually improve its numbers in the short run through a number of tactics. Number one, focus on the retention of current employees who come from diverse backgrounds. Support them with employee resource groups, mentoring, and professional development opportunities. Companies can make sure they have the best maternity and paternity policies to entice employees to stay. Similarly, companies can provide resources and programs to on-ramp women who may have left the workforce due to child rearing. What diversity best practices has your company not yet utilized or could be doing better? Hire new staff soon to help you explore these questions.

Keep an ongoing conversation about diversity within your organization. Host events to celebrate diversity and encourage education and awareness among all levels of staff. These can be round-table discussions, films, receptions honoring historical months and events, or conferences.
Companies can consider industry-wide partnerships, coalitions, or working groups to work together to improve the tech industry overall. Sharing data and resources collectively can yield a greater impact. Commission a multilateral research study to explore system wide best practices that companies can undertake. 

As annual strategic planning, board meetings, marketing, and budgeting processes begin, make sure diversity is on the agenda and significant time is dedicated to its discussion. All top company leaders need to be included in this conversation. Companies need to determine long-term plans to address diversity in a comprehensive way. What exactly are the short-term and long-term diversity goals for your organization? What financial and human resources will you dedicate to achieving such goals within certain deadlines? How does your company value diversity in a comprehensive way, beyond just statistics about diverse employees, but across all aspects of your organization, from supply chains to potential customers? As I mentioned in a previous post, the United Nations has recently created a system-wide plan of attack to improve gender parity among its employees. Tech companies can adapt this model to achieve their own diversity goals.

If there is an industry ready, willing, and able to take on the challenge of diversity in the workplace, it is high tech. Already, it has revolutionized the workplace, and perhaps diversity will be its greatest new innovation.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tech Companies: Look to the UN to Improve Diversity

I'm grateful to the many tech companies that are publicly sharing their diversity data. Collecting dis-aggregated data is definitely a major starting point to addressing the problem of the lack of diversity. Moreover publicly acknowledging your numbers, especially when they're less than ideal, is definitely a laudable effort. Tech companies can follow the lead of the United Nations (UN) in implementing new strategies to improve diversity. 
Increasing diversity among an organization's workforce requires a multifaceted approach of recruitment and retention. The United Nations (UN) has also had a poor track record of retaining women in top leadership positions. However, in 2012 the UN took a bold step in committing to a new policy, the UN system-wide Action Plan (UN SWAP), to set goals and measure progress towards the goals of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Tech companies can implement their own SWAP policy to set specific diversity goals and define actionable strategies to achieve such goals.

The UN-SWAP provides a comprehensive framework to hold UN institutions accountable for mainstreaming gender perspectives into all aspects of their work, laying out guidance of how they might go about it and ensuring that women are represented in equal numbers at all levels and in all the work of the UN whether it is peace-building, conflict resolution and mediation or procurement of gender-specific bulletproof vests for police and military contingents to ensuring adequate financial resources for programs dedicated to gender equality. Its 15 Performance Indicators, which provide a common understanding, method and progressive sliding scale for all UN entities to monitor progress towards the goal of gender equality, are organized around six main elements: strengthening accountability; enhancing results-based management; establishing oversight through monitoring, evaluation and reporting; allocating sufficient human and financial resources; developing and/or strengthening staff capacity and competency in gender mainstreaming; and ensuring coherence/coordination and knowledge information management at the global, regional and national levels. Moreover, and similar to the needs of a large multinational company, the UN-SWAP allows an organization to specifically track progress in individual departments and divisions.

Adapting the 15 SWAP indicators, companies can set their own goals, time lines, and strategies to achieve their diversity goals. While the UN-SWAP focuses on measuring gender, companies can modify it to address their broader definitions of diversity, which include race, disability, sexual orientation, age, etc. The UN-SWAP model provides tools to increase the recruitment and retention of employees from underrepresented communities. However, since it is a comprehensive approach to diversity, it also can serve as a way for companies to look at how they value diversity across their entire organization, from suppliers to untapped customer demographics.

The private sector has finally accepted the concept that increased diversity often yields increased profits and a more talented workforce. I commend the many tech companies for taking the first step by publicly acknowledging their current challenge. I encourage them to take the next step and consider the UN-SWAP as a new solution to achieving their diversity goals.
More Info:

Monday, April 14, 2014

An Ode to My Mentor, Arnie Thomas

2012 Running Start Women to Watch Awards

My mentor, life coach, and dear friend Arnie Thomas recently passed.  I would like to share with you some of the invaluable lessons he taught me.  I can't begin to share all the wisdom I gained from him, but hopefully you can learn a thing or two.  He wrote regularly for Everyday Mentor, and I highly recommend you read his direct words there.

I hope someday you can find an amazing mentor like Arnie!  I pray that someday I can be an incredible mentor to someone else, the way he was to me.  Arnie touched the lives of many. 

If you so feel compelled, I am sure Arnie and his family would be most grateful if you considered making a donation of any amount in his honor to Running Start, the organization that we served together on the board of directors.  I'm so grateful to Running Start for bringing Arnie into my life.  Thank you very much for giving back to Arnie's dream of empowering women leaders!

What Arnie Taught Me

"What Can I Do to Be of Service to You in the Future?"

Arnie embodied Dale Carnegie's philosophy of putting yourself in someone else's shoes.  He taught me to always, without hope of personal gain, offer myself to help others.  When sending emails to others, he told me to end with the words, "Please always let me know how I can be of service to you in the future."  When interviewing for jobs, he encouraged me to ask the interviewer, "What is your biggest challenge?  How do you see me helping with that?"  Everyone has a challenge they are dealing with.  Try to figure out what that is and how you can assist them in that endeavor.  The best way to grow in your success and happiness is by helping others.  Together, we can make the world a better place. 

Be Vulnerable

One of my favorite Arnie lessons was when he encouraged me to listen to Brené Brown's Ted Talk about The Power of Vulnerability. Arnie taught me that to be vulnerable with others was a strength and not a weakness.

Be an Avid Reader

Arnie was a demanding coach!  Each week, he gave me a book to read that we would then discuss.  Reading is one of the best ways to stay on top of trends and reflect on your growth. 

Recognize Your Bad Habits & Cultivate New Habits

One of the best books Arnie made me read was The Power Of Habit - Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.  I now recognize my triggers for bad habits and how to create incentives to modify that behavior. 

Classy is a State of Mind

Arnie taught me that no matter where you come from in life, you have the choice to create new possibilities for yourself.  First and foremost you must respect yourself, and not settle to be treated any such less by others.  If others no long serve you in this way, you need to let them go.  You are not obligated to persist in unhealthy relationships.

How to Find a Mentor/Coach

Arnie and I met while serving together on the board of Running Start, a national nonprofit preparing young women for political leadership.  I really liked him the moment I met him, and always knew I wanted to get to know him better.  At the time we met, I worked for a women's leadership nonprofit, and we were starting a mentoring program.  I knew he was an expert on mentoring, so I asked him to coffee and he shared his advice with me.  I then invited him to a networking reception for our organization.  I continued to see him at board meetings, and always smiled when I saw him.  He exuded positive energy.

It wasn't until about a year after casually knowing him that we entered into a more formal mentoring relationship.  I had entered a period of significant personal and professional transition, and knew I needed help.  I was going through my mental Rolodex of my network to find support and Arnie came to my mind.  I asked him again to coffee to seek his wisdom on how to navigate this new hardship.  He suggested we work together formally and he offered to be my life coach.  For a period of about seven months, we met almost weekly in the halls of the Willard Hotel or at Bistro Bis. Arnie was always nothing but class!

I can't emphasize enough the value of making the personal investment of time and money to work with a life coach.  I have had many other mentors and am indebted to them, but engaging in a formal, regular mentoring relationship through coaching yields different results.  For all the money you spend on yourself on Starbucks, clothes, and manicures, a more long lasting investment would be working with a coach!  You can only take yourself so far in your personal development.  You need the help of another to teach you what you don't know that you don't know.

Arnie believed in me during a time when I did not believe in myself.  He taught me ways to be self-sufficient for my personal happiness and well being.  I couldn't be where I am today without his support.

In terms of choosing a coach, I recommend finding someone who shares your values, but also is distinctly different from you.  Like me, Arnie was a feminist, and also a Catholic.  However, I feel I highly benefited from working with a male coach.  I have always worked in female dominated workplaces, and the vast majority of my personal and professional network was female.  Having a trusted male perspective was extremely helpful!

So if there are people in your life you admire, respect, and want to get to know better, just ask them to grab a coffee.  It could lead to a life changing mentoring relationship!

Learn more from Arnie!  Check out the resources below:

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Missed Opportunity: Bridging the Gap Between Girls' Education and Women’s Political Participation

        For the first time in modern history, in many countries around the globe such as Lebanon, Brazil, and the United States, women are graduating from universities and colleges at higher rates than their male peers.  However, a gender gap persists in parity between men and women in top leadership roles of all sectors of society such as business, law, and politics.  Higher education rates for women are often compared to higher labor force participation rates for women, but rarely is the gendered link between education and political participation examined.  Although a pipeline of educated women exists as potentially qualified candidates, this does not automatically translate into parity among elected leaders in parliaments.  With the upcoming UN Commission on the Status of Women, and as the global community strives towards gender equality in the post-2015 agenda, governments, philanthropists, and activists should consider encouraging the civic engagement of young women and girls as a successful and innovative intervention strategy to breaking the glass ceiling for women’s political participation.
            Through Millennium Development Goal Three, the global community has made its commitment to gender equality in access to education, work, and participation in decision-making. Growing consensus in the development community confirms that a best practice for achieving progress toward development goals more efficiently and effectively is to channel investments in gender equality and female empowerment, citing various social and economic benefits that are accrued as both direct and indirect consequence of the advancement of women.  These include but are not limited to decreased violence and increased social stability; local, national and regional economic growth; more inclusive, accountable and transparent governance; improved nutrition and health outcomes for maternal, child and family health; higher education outcomes; more stable and sustainable population patterns; more effective peace agreements; and increased access to enjoyment of equality, dignity and rights.  Gender equality is imperative to achieving development outcomes.   
            As nations have made the decision to invest in the education of its girls, they should ensure these girls are adequately prepared to be leaders in their society and fully contribute their cultivated talents. These educated girls are capable of becoming leaders in the most influential arena in the world — the political arena.  As more women are in positions of power, research strongly demonstrates that social issues are prioritized. Some studies suggest that more women in government promotes higher levels of transparency, lower corruption, higher attention to social and constituent concerns, higher collaboration across lines of conflict and greater investment in development.   A democracy without women leaders is not a true democracy. 
            Scholars in the United States such as Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox report that one of the most significant barriers to increasing the number of women in elected office is the gender gap in political ambition, and that this gap begins at the time women are studying at university.  Among surveys of equally qualified women and men, their research finds that women are much more unlikely to want to run for office. On average, women need to be asked by someone else to run for office five to seven times before they seriously consider their candidacy.  However, when women do run for office, data proves that women win at the same rates of male candidates.  Overall, a main problem is that not enough women are running for office.
            The key to strengthening and increasing women’s representation in government is to encourage young women and girls to get involved in civic engagement leadership and elected to office earlier in life. The earlier a candidate begins to run for office, the better are his or her chances of climbing the political ladder faster.  Nineteen of the last presidents of the United States first ran for office before the age of 35.  Additionally, according to Running Start, over forty percent of the women who currently serve in Congress began their political careers by serving in student government in their youth.  When the path to achieve significant political influence and chair a committee is based on seniority, a candidate benefits from being elected when they are young.  The advantages of beginning a political career early in life cannot be underestimated.
            As the issues of girls' education and women’s political participation are revisited in the post-2015 agenda, the global development community should consider new intervention strategies to promote the civic engagement of young women and girls.  Where student government opportunities exist at universities, gender-specific training programs such as Elect Her can be provided to encourage more young women to run for student government.   Where youth parliaments exist, efforts can be made to ensure equal access for girls such as mentoring programs, internships, and girls' caucuses.  More universities can create Women's Studies programs to give students the chance to analyze systemic and personal gender discrimination.  Political parties can design recruitment programs to develop young women as candidates and encourage them to run for local office.  At an early age, young women and girls need to be introduced to role models and skills to give them the confidence to assume political leadership. 
            Educating a girl needs to include a leadership development curriculum to empower her to serve her community.  Governments, foundations, and corporations have a tremendous opportunity to find innovative solutions to bridging the gap between girls education and women’s political participation, thus creating a more inclusive democracy for all citizens.  Young women and girls are the untapped, capable talent pool eager for the opportunity to solve the challenges of the post-2015 agenda.       

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The UN Recognizes the Power of Young Women and Girls!

Today in New York City, UN Women and the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth held an event “Young Women and Girls: Leaders of Today for a Better Tomorrow.”  Panelists included Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, H.E. Ms. Bénédicte Frankinet, Permanent Representative of Belgium, H.E. Mr. Masood Khan, Permanent Representative of Pakistan, Ms. Stacy Martinet, Chief Marketing Officer, Mashable, Ms. Chapa Pereira, Youth Delegate from Sri Lanka, and Ms. Ralien Bekkers, Youth Delegate from the Netherlands, and Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth.  You can watch a recording of the event or join the conversation on Twitter by following #FutureYW.  I am grateful that today UN entities honored the power of young women and girls!

Now is a special opportunity for young women and girls to share their voices in creating the international development agenda.  The world community is about to launch a global dialogue on the Post-2015 development agenda about what's next after the Millennium Development Goals.  Additionally, 2015 marks the anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, a turning point for the women's human rights movement.  Recently at an African Union Summit in January, young women and girls presented a statement about their vision for the future of Africa.  The UN is only beginning to witness the influence of young women and girls!

I was very happy to see that young women and girls from both developed and developing countries were given the chance to share their voice as panelists.  Ralien Bekkers, Dutch Youth Representative on Sustainable Development, stressed the importance of including girls' voices in the dialogue in real time.  Chapa Perera, UN Youth Delegate from Sri Lanka emphasized that the starting point for addressing the challenges of women and girls is for these girls to empower themselves.  These ladies were brilliant and inspiring!

Key takeaways from the discussion
  • We need to change gender stereotypes and the portrayal of women and girls in the media.
  • Men, boys, and girls' parents need to be involved and educated about the value of girls' empowerment.
  • Young women and girls need to have access to technology to gain an education and share their voice.
  • In addition to formal education, informal education programs need to be created to train young women and girls to achieve their leadership potential. (Elect Her and the Young Women's Political Leadership Program are my favorite examples of such trainings.)
  • Governments need to prioritize young women and girls in terms of funding, policies, and laws.
  • Violence against women and girls and limited reproductive rights continue to be barriers to the advancement of young women and girls.
  • Through building their own confidence, young women and girls can be active agents of change.  They do not need to wait to be empowered by others.
Check out these opportunities to get involved

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ten Ways College Women Can "Lean In"

Tonight, I had the great privilege of speaking at the launch event of American University's new Lean In group! I shared with the students ten ways I felt they could "Lean In" as college students.  Regardless of your age, we can all reflect on how we can incorporate these ideas into our personal and professional goals.

1. Read the book Lean In

If you haven't read the book yet, you definitely should.  If you've read it, consider reading it again, or joining or starting a Lean In Circle.  You can also stay continually updated on the book's topics by signing up for the newsletters of organizations such as UChic, Levo League, Daily Muse, Bossed Up, or Learn Vest.  

2. Develop a self-care practice

I wish I started healthier habits earlier on in my life!  Figure out your personal definition of what wellness means to you, and create regular practices to live that definition.  Do you drink enough water? Do you eat healthy or know how to cook?  Do you exercise regularly?  How do you take care of your spiritual health?  Do you always use safe-sex practices? You can start to explore all this by visiting your campus wellness center.  Additionally, your campus probably offers free therapy sessions, so take advantage of this opportunity!  Read this for more ideas on self-care.

3. Go out into your city

Get off campus and visit your local community.  Do informational interviews with professionals working near your school.  Volunteer with a local organization.  For students in major cities, do a part-time internship during the semester.

4. Do an internship

You absolutely must do at least one internship during your college career! Ideally, you would do one per year.  I know this is difficult since many internships are unpaid.  However, in today's job market, a college degree, even with a 4.0 GPA, is not enough.  You need professional experiences to get hired after graduation.

5. Visit your career center

Please visit your career center at least once a semester.  Even if you feel you have maximized the center's resources, I guarantee you can always learn more.  Meet with an advisor.  Go to a career fair or recruiting event.  Your tuition is paying for this resource so definitely utilize it!

6. Run for student government

Approximately 42% of the women who currently serve in Congress got their start in student government.  I ran for student government and lost, but you can read here about how it changed my life forever.  I really want you to run for student government, but take this to mean I suggest you gain leadership experience.  Working as a Resident Assistant was one of my most transformational experiences (read my RA story here).  Start a club, or become an officer of a club.  Get promoted in your student job.  In addition to internships, future employers will want to see leadership experience.

7. Find a mentor

Mentoring is up, down, and all around!  A mentor is not just someone older than you. Connect with your peers.  If you are interested in a student group, talk to one of the officers.  Go to a professor's office hours just to discuss career paths.  Ask your internship supervisor to introduce you to a colleague.  Be proactive in finding mentors in your life.

8. FAIL!!!

Yes, I am actively encouraging you to fail.  In college, I sold feminist t-shirts online, but eventually the business failed.  I learned a lot from the experience.  Put yourself out there and take risks.  Even if you hate your internship, you will get a better sense of what you would love doing. 

9. Master self-validation

Become a self-confident person and fully responsible for your own fulfillment and happiness.  Don't be jealous and compare yourself to others, but celebrate other's accomplishments.  Don't depend on Facebook or Snapchat to feel good about yourself.  Don't depend on your partner to make you feel pretty.  Don't depend on your parents to tell you they are proud of you for overcoming challenges.  A way to start cultivating this attitude is to ask yourself daily, "What am I proud of from today?"  Consider answering this question everyday in a journal for a week.  

10. Give back

Sheryl Sandberg emphasizes how women need to support each other in order to make society better for everyone.  Be a mentor to a fellow student the year below you, or to a high school girl.  Donate to or volunteer with an organization.  Pray for others.  Practice gratitude.

BONUS POINTS (Unofficial #11)
Study Abroad
I wish I had studied abroad, so I really encourage you to do that.  If you can't, think of ways you can really stretch your comfort zone.  Learn a new language.  However you define it, somehow immerse yourself in a foreign or totally new environment.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

So You Want to Join a Nonprofit Board?

Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed the holiday season.  As I talked with girlfriends about their New Year's resolutions, many of them mentioned wanting to give back to their community, and I suggested these women join nonprofit boards.  The process of joining a nonprofit board can be very confusing, so I seek to clarify that here.  You are never too young to join a nonprofit board.  At this moment, you have valuable skills that many nonprofits desperately need.

So what is a nonprofit board?  

The board of directors of a nonprofit is basically the governing body of a nonprofit organization.  They provide the strategic oversight to ensure the long-term fulfillment of the organization's mission.  Unlike corporate boards, board members of a nonprofit are usually not compensated financially.  In fact, most often, nonprofit board members are expected to donate a certain amount annually, in the idea of "write" or "raise."  For example, an organization may ask you to personally "write" an annual donation, or "raise" that amount through your personal and professional networks.

The board members are ultimately financially and legally responsible for the organization.  In most organizations, they work with paid staff members to guide the organization through growth and transition.  But don't worry, nonprofits have Directors & Officers insurance (D&O) to protect individual members from financial or legal harm.  So when joining a board, ask about their D &O. 

As a board member, you are expected to support the organization in a number of ways.  You will be asked to attend regular board meetings, often on a quarterly basis.  You may join a specific board committee to contribute your skill set with the organization.  You may be asked to attend program events to support the organization, and possibly host events to recruit your network to get involved with the organization.  As mentioned above, fundraising is one of the most important requirements of a board member.  But don't be afraid, there are many different ways to raise money, and this is an invaluable professional skill transferable to all trades.

Why should I join a board?

The number one reason to join a nonprofit board is because you care about the cause the organization serves.  You want to give back.  Did you love running clubs in school?  Did you love volunteering and getting involved with your community?  Then your next step is to join a nonprofit board.

In addition to helping others, serving on a nonprofit board has tremendous professional benefits.  Look at the biographies for people you admire.  I bet you they probably have board service included in their bio.  Boards can also allow you to develop skills you may not be able to get in your day job.  You can explore new passions, expand your network, and gain transferable leadership experience.  As you progress in your career, I'm sure you will want to join the board of large, prestigious organizations.  To get there, you need to start now.

How do I join a board? 

As with many things in life, networking is key to joining a nonprofit board. I was 24 when I first joined a nonprofit board.  The year before I officially joined the board, I ran for a seat on the board of the Women's Information Network and lost the election.  I stayed involved with the organization, took on volunteer leadership roles, and won my election the next year.  Since that experience, I have served on many other boards, and I am proud to currently serve on the board of Running Start, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering young women to run for office.

For all of my board opportunities, I was previously involved with the organization.  I joined one organization as a volunteer grant writer, and three years later joined the board.   With another organization, I invited someone from the organization to be a guest speaker where I worked, and then they invited me to be a guest speaker for their organization.  Many organizations working with youth or young professionals are very willing to have younger people serve on their boards.  However, even larger organizations are seeking to recruit diverse talent, and are eager for young professionals to serve on their board.

So for some organizations, you need to run for a position, but for others, you need to be recommended by a current board member.  It helps to have donation history with the organization.  When you are a board candidate, they will check if you have been giving to the organization for some time.  So even if it's $20 annually or monthly, start donating now.

What organizations are you currently connected to?  What can be a next step for you to get more involved?  What organizations are you not currently connected to but would like to learn more about?  Sign up for their newsletter or attend one of their events.  Talk to your friends and colleagues who serve on boards for their advice.  Check out Board Net USA, which lists current board vacancies. 

You are qualified now to serve on a board.  Young people are very underrepresented on nonprofit boards, but we have so many skills and experiences to share.  As you start the New Year, make time for volunteering and giving back to your community!  

Additional resources to check out:


Volunteer Match

National Council of Nonprofits


The Bridgespan Group