November 27, 2017

Take a closer look at your leadership team

What was it about the recent sexual abuse scandals that ignited a such a spark, and that has brought to the forefront the conversation about the continued lack of women in senior leadership positions? Clearly Hollywood and other industries run by an old-boy network of powerful men can create a culture ignoring or excusing abuses that have gone on for far too long. So how do you go about finding a solution?

There is no simple path – but one can certainly start by taking a closer look at leadership – within the senior ranks of our organizations, our governing bodies & boards and at the top of the masthead. Does the leadership of an organization look like its workforce and its customers?

Whether you're hiring employees, promoting staff or funding a startup – you want to select the best from the pool of talent. Yet in practice, more times than not, half of the population gets significant preference over the other. The gender pay gap in Massachusetts shows women make 84 cents for every $1 a man makes; less than 6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women; and nationally, men take up more than 80 percent of the boards of publicly traded companies

Despite our sense of being an enlightened, forward-thinking state, Massachusetts lags behind the rest of the nation when it comes to the growth of woman-owned businesses. According to its annual 2017 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express OPEN, the number of woman-owned businesses in Massachusetts has grown by 50 percent since 2007, compared to 114 percent nationally. Fewer startups means fewer entrepreneurs taking a risk, less innovation, and less wealth creation. Getting the state and Central Massachusetts firing on all cylinders will take a multi-pronged approach. There are some steps already being taken – like giving woman-owned firms a certain percentage of publicly funded government contracts and encouraging women at a young age to have an entrepreneurial spirit and strive for leadership positions. But stronger steps can be taken to strengthen the hand of women entrepreneurs, like setting up institutional financing or programs for women to start their own businesses, or creating gender balance goals for company boards. Does that progress in gender equality need to be legislated? We would hope not, but without a greater awareness of the imbalance, and a plan to address it, many organizations may have too narrow a view from the top and fall short of their potential.

There are lots of women in senior leadership positions in our region, and many running their own organizations. Yet the male/female ratios at the management team level, when looking at the whole picture, are still out of balance. Companies have half their workforce as women, but with few women in their senior ranks or on their board of directors, those firms need to ask themselves what message they are sending. Could they be a smarter, more inclusive, more enlightened, and more successful organization if they tapped the leadership skills of more women? The answer is yes – not by promoting a less qualified candidate because they are a woman, but by helping to develop the leadership talents of more women to make their organizations stronger.


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