Defining Your Own Board Journey: Board-Ready Bootcamp Alum Maria Loughlin

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MassTLC’s award-winning Board-Ready Bootcamp improves the quality and composition of board governance at tech companies by preparing underrepresented tech leaders, including African American, Latinx, LGBTQ, and women, to serve on tech boards.

Bootcamp participants participate in an intensive, high-impact curriculum that includes both theory and practice of how high performing boards are structured, as well as executive networking with some of the region’s top networked leaders in the tech community.

After initially delaying the program due to Covid-19, the 2020 Board-Ready Bootcamp will now take place virtually in October 2020 and applications are now open.

You can learn more about the program from the Boston Globe or from our brochure, but we think the best way to truly understand what makes this program special is to hear from the alumni themselves.

Over the next several weeks, we will be profiling some previous Board-Ready Bootcamp participants to learn more about their personal experiences and what advice they would give those thinking of applying.

This week: meet Maria Loughlin, VP of Engineering at Toast and 2019 Bootcamp participant.

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Can you tell us more about you and your Board-Ready Bootcamp journey?

Throughout my life I’ve immersed in science and technology and I built my career in great Massachusetts software companies. Many years into my career, I worked as head of engineering in a series of startups that were (mostly) commercially unsuccessful. I had an “aha moment.” As a technology leader, my role can be much more than delivering great products. I can raise my impact by partnering with my business colleagues to match business strategy with innovation. One without the other will not succeed. This dual focus of technology and business is what excites me in my career, and this is the perspective I will bring to a board.

In Spring 2019 a female former-colleague recommended me for the Board-Ready Bootcamp. I came to the bootcamp naive about how boards work and left with a solid understanding of board operations and an approach to how I can expand my career in this direction.

By design, my board journey will be long. When I attended bootcamp I also started as VP of Engineering at Toast, an intense and fun scaling-startup. I’m all-in on Toast’s mission to help restaurants thrive through the use of technology, and I’m even more focused on that now in COVID times.

I prepared my board bio, networked, and engaged with a few private companies around board positions. I’m still on this journey, taking it at my own pace, and thinking of board membership as a long-term goal.

What are your thoughts on the board diversity? What advice would you give other companies about why and how they can diversify their boards?

Diversity of thinking makes every team, every community, and every country stronger. A recent BYU study is one of many that demonstrates how women’s involvement changes group behavior and outcomes. The same study also shared evidence that women don’t speak up when we’re outnumbered. [See When Women Don’t Speak]. My advice to every company working on the composition of their board is to aim high. if you truly want to empower minorities, place multiple people from diverse backgrounds on the board, and establish a culture and decision-making process (such as unanimous rule) that allows all parties to speak.

Looking over the period of my career, I see more opportunities today for women in tech today than when I started my career. Doors have opened based on the impact of those who went ahead. I see that trend continuing and I love that I am part of the action. In my work and my kids’ schools I actively amplify the voices of minorities.

What advice would you give to others seeking to make the leap onto a board?

A few months ago, I talked with a board recruiter who asked about my passions. “Working on a board takes a lot of time and energy. It’s important that it aligns with your passions. What are you passionate about?”  I realized that I had not taken the time to flesh out my true passions to myself, nor had I added them to my board pitch.  Given the commitment required to be a great board member, I recommend that all of us think about our passions in the context of potential board membership.

That conversation led me to follow through on an opportunity to join the WGBH Board of Advisors. I am passionate about education and love how this great organization enriches people’s lives through great content.

What was the most valuable part of the Bootcamp for you? What advice would you give others to maximize their experience?

Attending the Board-Ready Bootcamp started my board journey. It opened my eyes to what’s possible and where I fit in.

I had a similar learning experience when I attended a session on Personal Finance at the Grace Hopper Conference for women in technology. I thought I was doing everything right with my 401k and diversified funds. Then I learned that I was missing a huge opportunity, specifically venture investing in early-stage companies. I have since joined the Brown University Alumni fund and my portfolio has expanded to include early stage ventures.

There is a parallel between my experience at the Grace Hopper conference and the Board-Ready Bootcamp. Each opened my eyes to an opportunity that had not been visible to me organically. As a female, a mom, an engineer, and an immigrant I’m not “in the club” that exposes these types of opportunities. Board readiness and investment possibilities were introduced to me through structured programming designed to support women. Now that I’m part of this supportive community, it’s on me to learn, to network, and to build the career and life I want.

Likewise, for all MassTLC members, it’s on you to define your board journey. And it’s ok if you are thinking long-term, as I am.