IG Live Weekly Discussion: Shaking Up Board Elections with Alison Hart and Jess Pettitt

Michelle Turner
Michelle Turner
May 30, 2023



We’re shaking up our board elections! After 75 years, it’s time for the USBG to do things in a whole new way. In a recent Instagram Live Weekly, Executive Director Aaron Gregory Smith speaks with Principal Strategist Alison Hart and USBG Diversity Consultant Jess Pettitt to find out what voting in a slate election brings to the USBG. Read the full conversation below (edited for clarity and brevity).

Aaron: Hello everyone, and a warm welcome to USBG Weekly. I'm Aaron Gregory Smith, the Executive Director of the Guild. While a recent study primarily focused on white-collar corporate workers, it revealed universally desired changes in the job landscape. These changes include flexible schedules, improved compensation, mentorship and advancement opportunities, and the pursuit of a healthier work environment and stronger connections with colleagues.

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It's noteworthy that these concerns resonate across various industries, even in the bar industry. As USBG approaches its 75th anniversary, we're embracing change and evolving our leadership to better serve our members for the next 75 years. Today, I'm joined by two consultants, Alison Hart and Jess Pettitt, who work closely with USBG. They will enlighten us about the concept of slate elections in association boards and how it aligns with our goals.

Alison: I have a deep connection with the industry, having been married to a fine dining chef for 20 years. I understand the landscape well and have even co-owned a restaurant in the past. In my consulting firm, I specialize in board and leadership development for associations. I work on strategic planning, board recruitment, and navigating growth and change. My role involves guiding organizations toward becoming future-focused entities, and I consider myself a companion for clients through change.

Aaron: Thank you for sharing, Alison. Your insights have been invaluable as we've worked together. Jess, could you introduce yourself as well?

Jess: Absolutely, Aaron. Thanks for having me. I'm a diversity equity inclusion consultant, and my journey with USBG has been inspiring. I've witnessed its transformation, particularly its shift from being an organization of the past to one that's progressively oriented toward the future. This shift aligns well with my role of fostering inclusivity and belonging within organizations. I'm excited to discuss how the concept of slate elections fits into this narrative.

Aaron: That's a crucial topic we're exploring today—leadership and governance within USBG. Our board plays a pivotal role in steering the organization's direction. It's responsible for making strategic decisions, setting budgets, and charting the course for USBG. This is a multifaceted process, and it's vital that our board is reflective of our diverse membership.

Alison, could you delve into how associations typically approach board recruitment and development?

Alison: Certainly, Aaron. The role of a board is multifaceted, encompassing foresight, insight, and oversight. It's about looking ahead, understanding the current landscape, and ensuring that the organization's strategies align with its goals. When it comes to board recruitment, it's not merely about filling seats—it's a thoughtful, strategic process. We consider the skills, diversity, and experiences that will best guide the organization toward achieving its strategic objectives.

Diversity here isn't just about gender or heritage; it's about bringing together a mosaic of backgrounds, perspectives, ages, and industry experiences. It's the balance of these elements that makes a board truly robust and capable of steering the organization toward a brighter future.

Aaron: Jess, building on Alison's insights, how do you see the impact of inclusive processes like slate elections on USBG's journey towards fostering belonging?

Jess: Great question, Aaron. The shift toward slate elections is a significant step. It acknowledges the importance of diverse skills and experiences in guiding an organization's growth. Open elections, while "democratic", can unintentionally favor those with more visibility and social capital. This may overlook quieter voices and perspectives that are equally valuable.

Slate elections, on the other hand, prioritize inclusivity by considering a range of skills, backgrounds, and experiences. This approach facilitates a more balanced board that's better equipped to understand the diverse needs of membership and the industry. By fostering a culture where skills and qualifications matter more than popularity, you're creating a board that's truly representative of the USBG community.

Aaron: Your insights highlight the significance of these changes. As we embark on this transformation, what are some steps we'll be taking to transition from open to slate elections?

Alison: The transition won't happen overnight. It involves a series of steps, including the formation of task forces to examine the process thoroughly. These groups will study best practices and define the new nominations process. This process will be guided by inclusivity and strategic alignment. Ultimately, the new policies will be reviewed by the Board and refined as necessary.

Additionally, we'll ensure a consultative approach, seeking input from various stakeholders, including members and industry experts. This journey toward slate elections is an opportunity for collective growth and evolution, and we're committed to making it a thoughtful and effective transition.

Aaron: I appreciate the detailed explanation, Alison. This is a complex but necessary evolution for USBG. Jess, as someone deeply involved in our organization's transformation, how do you foresee this shift enhancing USBG's inclusivity and sense of belonging?

Jess: Aaron, USBG's willingness to question and adapt its practices is a commendable trait. By moving toward slate elections, the organization is signaling its commitment to fostering belonging and inclusivity. This shift acknowledges that leadership skills come in diverse forms and are not solely defined by popularity or visibility.

Slate elections allow you to consider skills, experiences, and viewpoints that may not have been highlighted in open elections. This change can lead to a more holistic and informed decision-making process, ultimately enhancing USBG's ability to serve its membership and navigate an evolving industry landscape.

Aaron: Thank you both for your profound insights. It's clear that these changes are critical steps toward a more inclusive and forward-looking USBG. As we approach our 75th anniversary, the organization is positioning itself to continue its legacy while adapting to new horizons. Your expertise is invaluable in this journey, and I'm excited to see USBG's transformation unfold!