By Michele Rafferty - 29th July, 2022
Career Curves: Boards and Beyond was the fifth program in a series hosted by The MIT Club of New York, exploring what series moderator Melissa Marsh calls “a conversation at the intersection of the Purpose Economy and the Great Resignation.”
Specifically, Boards and Beyond asked the audience to consider if serving on a board could augment their career by helping them get a foot in the door or giving them a better understanding of what it means to work in a leadership or advisory position. “At a really basic level, the board is either formally the boss of the CEO or the Executive Director,” panelist Craig Robinson said, “there to provide counsel, advice, governance…” and more .Our three panelists have served on boards of both corporate and non-profit organizations, in paid and non-paid positions.
For Hilary Lewis, serving on boards has impacted her career, as well as provided an opportunity for her to live out her personal values. Her experience serving on the board of Glass House directly led to her current position as Chief Curator and Creative Director at the museum, in the former home of architect Philip Johnson. Now Lewis sits on the board of the onePULSE Foundation, tasked with building a memorial to the victims of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Orlando in 2016.
“Sometimes [board membership is] about who you…get to work with, and how you learn from them,” Lewis continued. Everyone from the Mayor of Orlando to the former President of Walt Disney World has been involved with the onePULSE Foundation, which, beyond memorializing, is asking “how do you combat gun violence, how do you manage to have greater acceptance of difference in society?” Serving on boards allows you to “extend into other areas” and apply expertise which isn’t being fully used at your current job.
Her newest project is Big Brain Box, an eco-friendly, accessible toy company, but
a decade ago, Rachel Barnard founded an organization called Young New Yorkers. It was designed as a public art project, “to provide a platform for 16 and 17 year olds who had been arrested and prosecuted in New York State…as adults.” This meant that their criminal record lasted forever, even though they had committed low level offenses, like hopping a turnstile or “loitering” with friends on the corner.
“Back then it was Stop & Frisk,” Barnard explained, “so if you resisted arrest by, you know, responding in a developmentally appropriate way to an officer that stopped you, that’s a lifelong criminal record.”
Young New Yorkers developed a team of artists, architects, and lawyers to support their mission. Barnard pitched her program to a judge, and it became a court-mandated alternative to prison. Over 1500 young people have been sentenced to the program since it began, which, Barnard said, has created a “real shift” inside the courtrooms.
Barnard recently stepped down from leading the organization but still leads the graduate fellowship and has been supporting the board in their search for a new permanent director. We all want to feel that “warm, glow-y” feeling, she said, but serving the mission often involves tasks such as creating spreadsheets or fundraising that we might not find thrilling at the time. “It’s just an extreme amount of commitment and hard work and partnership with many different people with many different perspectives. But it’s worth it.”
Robinson has been a member of non-profit (NYU’s Schack Institute of Real Estate, The Harvard Club, and HPS Club) and for-profit boards (Roofstock, Fyllo), in addition to answering to a board as an executive. He also serves on a few advisory boards, which are different from corporate boards. Both are compensated, but advisory boards oversee companies that are earlier in their lifespan. Robinson also advises a VC firm that does property technology investment. Serving on the boards of public companies requires an incredible amount of time and availability, and advising corporations as a board member is a key part of Robinson’s career. “Boards are one of the ways where you really get a chance to expand your worldview,” he said. “You get to think about things that are bigger than maybe your 9-5, and then you also find that you have something to share and give back.”