Jack Lewars

Executive Director @ One for the World
Working (6-15 years of experience)



Executive Director at One for the World; chair of trustees at High Impact Athletes.


I'm very surprised that you think a 3 person Board is less brittle than a bigger Board with varying levels of value alignment. How do 3 person Boards deal with all the things you list that can affect Board make up? They can't, because the Board becomes instantly non-quorate.

It seems intuitive that your chances of ending up in a one off weird situation are reduced if you have people who understand the risks properly in advance. I think a lot of what people with technical expertise do on Boards is reduce blind spots.

Hi Robin - thanks for this and I see your point. I think Jason put it perfectly above - alignment is often about the median Board member, where expertise is about the best Board member in a given context. So you can have both.

I have also seen a lot of trustees learn about the mission of the charity as part of the recruitment process and we shouldn't assume the only aligned people are people who already identify as EAs.

The downsides of prioritising alignment almost to the exclusion of all else are pretty clear, I think, and harder to mitigate than the downsides or lacking technical expertise, which takes years to develop.

Isn't part of this considering whether Will's comparative advantage is as a Board member? It seems very unlikely to me that it is, versus being a world class philosopher and communicator.

So I agree with your general point that leaders who make mistakes might not need to resign, but in the specific case I can't see how Will is most impactful by being a Board member at really any org, as opposed to e.g. a philosophical or grant-making advisor.

Thanks for making the case. I'm not qualified to say how good a Board member Nick is, but want to pick up on something you said which is widely believed and which I'm highly confident is false.

Namely - it isn't hard to find competent Board members. There are literally thousands of them out there, and charities outside EA appoint thousands of qualified, diligent Board members every year. I've recruited ~20 very good Board members in my career and have never run an open process that didn't find at least some qualified, diligent people, who did a good job.

EA makes it hard because it's weirdly resistant to looking outside a very small group of people, usually high status core EAs. This seems to me like one of those unfortunate examples of EA exceptionalism, where EA thinks its process for finding Board members needs to be sui generis. EA makes Board recruitment hard for itself by prioritising 'alignment' (which usually means high status core EAs) over competence, sometimes with very bad results (e.g. ending up with a Board that has a lot of philosophers and no lawyers/accountants/governance experts).

It also sometimes sounds like EA orgs think their Boards have higher entry requirements than the Boards of other well-run charities. Ironically, this typically produces very low quality EA Boards, mainly made up of inexperienced people without relevant professional skills, but who are thought of as 'smart' and 'aligned'.

Of course, it will be hard to find new Board members right now, because CEA's reputation is in tatters and few people will want to join an organisation that is under serious legal threat. But it seems at best a toss up whether it's worth keeping tainted Board member(s) because they might be tricky to replace, especially when they have recused themselves from literally the single biggest issue facing the charity.

Great post, thanks.

I might elaborate on your last category to include a) well-intentioned high competence people accidentally creating bad systems; and b) well-intentioned high competence people put into bad systems by leadership (so not just leaders but e.g. a community health team trying to deal with sexual harassment by one of their own Board members).

I think your section header covers this, but the body focuses specifically on CEOs and Boards. Lots of people in EA, not just leadership, can end up making mistakes because the systems/policies they work within aren't fit for purpose.

Hard agree with this. It's why I think healthy handling of relationships at work is so important as a stepping stone to a healthy community overall.

Thanks for writing this Amber. I pretty firmly disagree, but I'm upvoting it anyway because I think we need to discuss these issues in the open, and you've put across your point of view in a measured, reasonable way. I hope to draft a response soon with some alternative suggestions.

(Also, as usual, @Peter Wildeford has made most of my points in his comment.)

I think my main disagreement is that this is taking on a straw man argument. I'm not aware of anyone suggesting that we should "prevent people from forming relationships with whom they want", at least not in the strong sense of "banning" relationships. Indeed, I've spoken recently to a couple of people with experience of managing these issues, and they all say "people are free to date whomever they want" (provided the usual caveats about it being fully consensual etc.).

What is being suggested is that there should be clear policies for how these relationships will be handled, to ensure a) the safety of those involved, especially the partner(s) with less power; and b) the safety of the community as whole. Those then give all parties the chance to make informed decisions about whom they form relationships with, and to give informed consent.

Accordingly, I think all EA orgs should adopt a clear "relationships at work" policy (and I hope to release a template for this soon). This wouldn't say "you can't date anyone from work". But it would say:

1. If you have a nonprofessional relationship with someone at/directly related to work, we will actively manage any conflicts of interest, by doing X, Y and Z
2. If you have a nonprofessional relationship with someone at/directly related to work, you have to tell the relevant organisation(s) promptly so they can achieve (1)
3. You can't use work time to advance your romantic interests, in particular by e.g. propositioning people
4. If you date someone at/related to work and there is a power imbalance, you have a particular duty to think very carefully about this, per @Peter Wildeford 's comment
5. Even when you aren't on work time, we reserve the right for your actions to have professional consequences if they are plausibly harmful (e.g. if someone comes into work on a Monday and says you sexually harassed them on a Friday night, that's not 'off limits' for professional consequences) 

Part 1 would involve things like recusing anyone who has a nonprofessional relationship with someone else from any decision about their pay, promotions, disciplinary processes etc., to avoid the obvious conflict of interest here (I commented elsewhere that I am concerned by you saying you would only "probably" find someone a new manager if their current manager starts dating them, although I don't want to focus in too hard on a single word).

It also involves removing them from decisions about funding, hiring etc. for indirect work relationships.

Part 5 might seem like the most draconian but is based on real examples of people who repeatedly sexually harassed colleagues, but because it happened 'after hours' it was never acknowledged or dealt with.

If orgs adopted a policy like this from the get-go, it would give everyone involved the chance to give informed consent - that is, they can understand exactly the consequences of their actions in advance and decide what works best for them. This isn't "preventing people from forming relationships" - it's allowing them to form relationships in an informed way.

You are right, of course, that this might lead to people not starting a relationship that they otherwise would have, but that's just tough, I'm afraid - as other commentators have pointed out, this happens all the time in professional settings. Alternatively, they might choose to start the relationship anyway, and then they can choose whether to live with how that is managed or one or other person can seek a job elsewhere, in a different team etc..

Anyway, in sum, I think this is the steelman position, and I think its harms (maybe people have fewer relationships/less sex with people they work with) are greatly outweighed by its benefits (a healthier and safer workplace and community, which conforms to wider workplace norms).

I think the word "probably" in this quotation is quite concerning - you should 100%, definitely, in every case and without question not let someone manage someone they are dating. It's an unresolvable conflict of interest and totally unprofessional.

But also, to Quinn's point, if it's a small org, even making this change might not really mitigate the problem. Imagine a 5 person team, where the CEO and one of the staff are dating, so then you change the reporting line for the junior person in the relationship. It seems highly probable that the new manager is going to be influenced by the fact that their boss is dating their subordinate.

I'm going to write a longer comment on how I think you can manage this below.

Love this transparency Grayden.

Worth noting that Board hires are very rare (usually 1-2, happening only every 2-3 years), so plenty of time for this to land some impactful roles.

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