This week I introduce Elizabeth Berk, a former board member of Minute Man Arc and presently a mentor for Mary, who we met last week. Liz shares her experience and insight into having people with intellectual disabilities serving as board directors.

Learning from colleagues

Mary Blauvert and Liz Berk
Mary Blauvert and Liz Berk

Liz began the conversation with a simple observation.

“Over the years, our board has diversified. We now have more business leaders and others who aren’t necessarily friends or family of a person with a disability. For these new members, this may be the first time they are meeting someone with a disability”.

As she spoke, I realized the issue was not only about advocating for people with disabilities to be board members for their own benefit; there was also another advantage at hand.

If Board Directors are introduced to a person with a disability as a respected colleague, everyone benefits.

Training and support

We discussed the process of Mary joining the board and receiving support.

“Mary had some training before joining the board and was presented with a few other candidates. It was important because the board members all felt comfortable that she had passed the training and understood what was involved.”

The board training was a series of four group sessions followed by a meeting with the Board President and Liz as Mary’s mentor.

“To be a mentor, I think it’s important that the person has experience and understands people with disabilities. They should also be committed to educating the other Board members as to how viable they are.”

Challenge addressed

Liz explained her approach to one of the challenges.

“This month I realized the financial report will be most of the meeting, so I explained to Mary that she can abstain from voting if she feels overwhelmed by all the information. She had very good questions about what it meant to abstain and I think she is going into the meeting feeling very comfortable.’

Benefit to all

Liz shared her final thoughts about the impact Mary has had on the other board directors.

“I will never forget a comment by one of the board members after Mary attended her first meeting. He explained to me in complete candor that he was hesitant when he first heard that two people with disabilities would be joining the board. Yet after the meeting he was so impressed with what they had to say and realized how much he would learn from them both.”

She described it as a pyramid effect where the board members would now bring their experience back to their community organizations and everyone benefits in the process.