By: Erica Dvorak

As a young professional, the thought of advancing my career (and how to go about that) is always on my mind. I have found that board and committee involvement for both nonprofits and for-profits has been a great way for me to grow my network, expand my knowledge and advance my career. Although I have been able to be a part of boards for the past four years, there is still so much to learn.

I recently had the opportunity to connect with TeamWomenMN’s upcoming speaker, Martha Goldberg Aronson, the former Executive VP and President of Global Healthcare at Ecolab and a board member of many organizations. I jumped at the chance to ask her about her experiences with board involvement. The knowledge I gained from the information Martha shared was too good not to pass along to fellow young professionals and individuals of all ages who are interested in starting a journey into board involvement.

Getting Started with Board Involvement

Q: When did you start your board involvement?

Martha: My involvement started while I was at Wellesley College. I applied and was accepted to serve as a member of the Student Life Committee of the Board of Trustees. Right after college, I was asked to join a nonprofit called Wellesley College Friends of Athletics as I was passionate about athletics and raising funds for the organization. Sometimes getting involved is as simple as raising your hand and other times you are asked. Bottom line, step up and get involved.

Q: How do you decide what board best fits your time and energy?

Martha: It is best to get involved with an organization whose values align with your values. Choose an organization that you care about and where you think you can make a contribution that positively impacts the community. I have to say more often than not, once you start to get involved in the community, you tend to be approached to be on a board. I was approached by the Minnesota Opera to join their board when I was an executive at Medtronic, and although I had never seen a show, I am passionate about the arts and the important role they play in our community, so I said yes. It was a terrific board to be a part of and I learned a lot.

Q: What are a few things you would have liked to know when you started your board involvement journey?

Martha: You need to be careful about listening and learning during your first year(s) of involvement. Women often feel a need to prove that they deserve to have a seat at the table and sometimes that can backfire. Listen and learn before you start expressing too many of your opinions. Feel it out. Be smart about when you choose to speak.

Balancing Career Workload and Board Involvement

Q: When working at Ecolab, how did you balance your workload and board involvement?

Martha: It helped to have bosses who were supportive of board involvement. Ecolab is very involved in the local community and it is part of the company’s values, so it makes it easier. It’s important to ensure you are getting your work done in a timely fashion for your “day job” so that your managers support your outside involvement.

Q: Did you ever come across a time where you had to step down from board obligations because of your workload? If so, how did you address it?

Martha: Juggling obligations is not always easy. There was a year at the Guthrie where I could not attend the executive committee meetings because Ecolab’s executive meetings were held at the same time. I offered to step down from the Guthrie executive committee for this reason; however, they were able to alter the schedule the following year as they had not yet set the schedule. This gave me the opportunity to remain involved on the board and still remain true to my Ecolab obligations. This was a testament to how if you address a conflict early, you can get out ahead of it.

Q: When the workload becomes a bit too much, how do you stay focused and not get flustered?

Martha: Lists! I am co-hosting a leadership development program and recently I had to bring something to our first meeting that represented me. Debating what I should bring, I asked one of my sons and he quickly replied, “A notebook – you’re always making a list!” And, he’s right – I am a list maker. Lists help me stay on track and provide a way for me to see what is most important and urgent in the day (and week) and set my priorities accordingly. I also like to take a look at my calendar in advance and know what I have going on the next day, week, etc. and prepare ahead of time.

I realize there are moments when you aren’t able to do that – and so you have to put your nose to the grindstone and get it done. Sometimes life requires an 80-hour workweek from you. I do not promote this as a part of your regular routine but sometimes life requires it and you just need to work through it. Having a strong support network in place to do this when necessary is invaluable. One of the great things that Wellesley College taught me is that no matter how big your stack is to work through, somehow you can always work through it.

Establishing Meaningful Relationships

Q: How do you establish meaningful relationships with other board members during and after your service?

Martha: I have found that establishing relationships during board service is relatively easy. With for-profit boards you are often having board dinners, making it easy to get to know other board members on a personal level. For nonprofit boards, it is easy to establish relationships because of your common ground of a passion for the same purpose. Continuing the meaningful relationships after your service truly depends on how much time and energy you choose to put into it.

Getting the Most Out of Your Board Involvement

Q: How do you get the most out of your board involvement?

Martha: Get involved in areas where you can make a contribution and where you can have the greatest impact. I have also found that it’s amazing what you can learn from other board members and how their knowledge and passion can fill your soul. Getting the most out of your involvement is really about what you are willing to make of it.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with those that are interested in board/committee involvement?

Martha: The earlier, the better! Work with your current network to find an organization with whom to get involved. Also, it is never too early to turnaround and help the next generation. When is the last time you asked someone younger than you out to lunch or coffee? You can be a mentor at any age and provide encouragement for others to get involved in their own passions.

Register here to see Martha speak at our April 13, 2017 Power Luncheon:

Erica Dvorak is a Senior Marketing Specialist at UnitedHealthcare, and serves on the TeamWomenMN Young Professionals Board as Co-Chair of the Marketing and Branding Committee, Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce YPro Committee as 2017 Past Chair/2016 YPro Chair, and U of M Masonic Children’s Hospital Corporate Advisory Council as a member. Erica enjoys contributing to the success of businesses, as well as individuals. A great day for Erica is a day where she has been able to help an individual by giving them an opportunity to advance their career and grow their confidence in knowing that anything is possible.