November 9, 2015
Viewpoint

Massachusetts needs women business leaders

Sen. Karen E. Spilka

Of the 100 largest public companies in Massachusetts:

• 24 have no women on their boards of directors.

• 46 have no women executive officers.

• 19 have no women on their boards or in their executive suites.

Which may lead you to ask, "Where are the women?"

It's an important question, especially as a considerable amount of research shows that businesses with greater gender diversity at the top have a competitive advantage in the global economy. Women, as well as minorities, bring unique perspectives and experiences and make companies stronger. The Boston Club's annual census of women directors and executive officers cites these numbers, bluntly stating: "No More Excuses."

Last month, the legislature unanimously adopted a resolution I filed to encourage companies to increase the number of women on their boards of directors and in their senior management ranks. Similar to goals set by the national 2020 Women on Boards organization, the resolution sets a target of Dec. 31, 2018, for companies to have at least three women directors on their boards. As just the third state, along with California and Illinois, to make the clear statement that opening doors for more women is a public policy priority, Massachusetts has the opportunity to lead the nation on this issue.

Last year, the Alliance for Business Leadership organized an eye-opening meeting with more than 140 influential Massachusetts CEOs and thought leaders to discuss how companies can embrace gender diversity. It was a candid conversation of successes, challenges and frustrations. Women have come far in the workplace, but not far enough. I suggested my resolution as one step we can take to help clear the path.

At a public hearing at the Massachusetts State House, business leaders shared stories of advancing women and the terrific results that followed. One CEO explained how profits jumped significantly after the company brought on more women in leadership. Another described soaring productivity and business growth.

Recognizing that their businesses need to use all the talent available in order to succeed, many CEOs in Massachusetts have already set targets for women on their boards. They are developing pipelines for future leaders through mentoring programs. They encourage senior-level management to network in new and diverse places. And they make diversity an open, publicized value.

This is not a women's issue; it is a business and economic development issue. The future of the state's economy depends on our highly educated, highly skilled workforce. How can we expect our businesses to compete and our economy to continue to thrive without the best mix of workers and leadership at the table? There are many smart, talented women in Massachusetts. We need to connect more of them with available leadership positions.

We still have a lot of work to do, but this resolution is an important step toward increasing opportunities for more Massachusetts women and bringing diverse perspectives to our state's businesses.

State Sen. Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland) represents the 2nd Middlesex & Norfolk district.

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