March 16, 2020
Shelby Ostrom was appointed to the Kansas Volunteer Commission through the Appointments Project®. She talked with us about what it’s like to serve on a civic commission and her advice for other women interested in getting involved in public service.
What has serving on a Kansas Volunteer Commission been like?
The Kansas Volunteer Commission promotes community service by administering grants to AmeriCorps and Volunteer Generation Fund in Kansas. As a Commissioner, I am responsible for developing and communicating that statewide ethic of service in the state through recommendations on grant funding and programming. We meet 6 times a year over a 4 hour period to review grants and learn more about what the Commission is doing to provide service.
What inspired you to apply to serve?
I was inspired by the fact they were looking for someone like me who was a young professional. I have always been passionate about volunteerism and engaging others with those same goals and it felt like a good fit for me.
Is there anything that’s surprised you or a challenge you didn’t anticipate?
Frankly, everyone on the commission is older than me! It gives me an incredible opportunity to connect with individuals with different experiences, but it was a hurdle to get past for sure. It humbles you into stepping outside of your comfort zone, but I have been impressed by so many members of the Commission as well.
What’s the current gender makeup of your board? How does having (or lacking) diversity impact the effectiveness of the board?
The Commission has done a great job on the inclusion of women. About 60% of the Commission is comprised of women, but only 11% are individuals of color. There are always improvements to be made on every board and commission, but I believe that women bring effectiveness to a board that sometimes is lacking.
What advice do you have for other women considering serving on a board or commission?
My advice is to learn as much as you can, but also contribute what you know. Being a fairly young commissioner, I sometimes have felt that my voice and my experience are not up-to-par with individuals who are older, and that is far from the truth. Everyone has something to contribute – EVEN YOU!
Is there anything you wish you’d known going in?
I would have loved to have known that everyone would be older than me! It seems silly, but I think it would have prepared me for the awkwardness I sometimes feel.
What do you see as some of the barriers that cause women to be underrepresented in these roles?
Statistically, women will only apply for roles when they believe they are 100% qualified, while men will apply when they only have about 60%. This stat has always stuck with me and I believe that this why women are hesitant to step up for roles such as these. I see imposter syndrome as a huge, if not, the largest barrier for women to advance to these roles. We are qualified and we are amazing, even when we feel like we aren’t.
Why is it important that women step up to serve in these roles?
It is so important for women to step up to serve in these roles because many people don’t. I believe, specifically as a young woman, that women my age don’t step up because they feel like they aren’t ready – and quite frankly, that is the best time to stand up and lead. Stepping up has given me enormous confidence to go after different roles and responsibilities, despite my imposter syndrome. If you don’t step up, a man will.