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Board Structure, Part 2: Much Needed Context from the Past

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

This article is Part 2 of a 3-part series from CWBA President-Elect Emma Garrison, about the CWBA's board structure.


In the last post on the CWBA's board structure, we provided an update on the proposals and feedback received from the current CWBA Board. This week we are discussing input from CWBA’s past presidents.


The Past


Meeting with the past presidents provided a good deal of insight! As with our current board, the past presidents agreed that the size of the CWBA’s Board is too unwieldy and that it may be time for a smaller governing body.


When the CWBA was first created in the 1970s, it had a small, working board. Each committee had one chair and all committee chairs had a seat on the board. When the CWBA decided to have two co-chairs lead each committee, the board doubled in size practically overnight. Later, the CWBA leadership did roadshows around the state, which eventually led to the creation of six chapters, each of whom have a representative who now sits on the board as well. We’ve also added representatives from the other diversity bars, the two law schools, the Colorado Bar Association Board of Governors, and the Center for Legal Inclusiveness, not to mention newly created committees and the addition of a third co-chair to some committees. As Executive Director Kim Sporrer has noted many times, large boards usually just keep getting bigger.


The past presidents raised similar concerns about the vice presidents that were voiced by the current board. In particular, they worried that the vice presidents would end up being middlemen with no clear responsibilities. They also wondered whether assigning one or more committees to each vice president, rather than a broad subject area, may be more productive. The past presidents also asked how committee co-chairs would stay connected with leadership if they are only meeting with the full board a few times a year. One suggestion was to consider asking the vice presidents to serve a two-year term as it would allow that individual to shape their role, develop expertise, and have institutional knowledge of the role going into their second year. (From personal experience, joining the CWBA Board or taking on a new role can be overwhelming and can take several months to feel like you know what you are doing!)


Another point that stood out to me was that in the early days of the CWBA, there was a push to put on as many events as possible. It turns out old habits die hard! For years, board members have expressed concerns that we have too many events and that we should shift to a mindset of quality over quantity. While not technically related to the board structure, this bit of history is directly related to strategic planning. Our event calendar regularly stacks multiple events near one another, and more strategy and coordination are needed to more thoughtfully space things out. There are many more events and programs now that are relevant to women attorneys than there were in the 1970s—this is a good thing! But it means we need to acknowledge that there are more opportunities competing for our members’ time and be careful not to duplicate efforts. A more streamlined governing body may allow for more intentional strategy about what the CWBA uniquely contributes to the community so we can provide value to our members that they are not getting elsewhere.


The past presidents I spoke with are deeply invested in the CWBA’s success and were supportive of trying a new structure. While our mission has not changed, how we serve that mission is up for constant reevaluation and reassessment. And understanding how we got here is crucial for making that evaluation.


The next blog post in this series will address the future—where we go from here?


Do you have any feedback about the CWBA’s Board restructure proposal? Feel free to drop a comment below or email Emma Garrison – emma.garrison.cwba@gmail.com.

 

Emma Garrison is an Assistant Attorney General in the Tax Unit of the Colorado Department of Law. Emma joined the CWBA in 2014, and has previously served as Co-Chair of the Convention, Membership, and Judicial Committees, and as the CWBA Secretary. She has also held many leadership positions in the Colorado legal community over the years, including Chair of the Colorado Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and Senior Vice-President of the Colorado Bar Association. Emma is the current host of On What Grounds?, CWBA’s virtual leadership café.

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