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Updated: October 16, 2023 Opinion

Viewpoint: Yes, we still need more women in leadership

Earlier this year, many celebrated an S&P 500 record: 10% female CEOs. My reaction: not good enough. While women are about half the U.S. workforce, they are greatly underrepresented in leadership roles. The Massachusetts Women’s Leadership Index published by the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Nichols College aggregates data about women leaders. In 2023, the commonwealth was scored 50 out of 100 (a score of 100 would mean equal representation); better than 2015’s 36, but still a failing grade.

Jean Beaupré

For decades, researchers have explored factors contributing to leadership gaps: bias in favor of male leaders (it persists), systemic barriers (workplace policies have improved, but challenges remain), home demands (women do more unpaid work), and mentoring (men tend to receive more constructive, strategic feedback).

An intelligent, confident young woman I know shared for her last job search, she changed her first name on her resume to be gender neutral. I don’t know whether de-feminizing her name contributed to her success in landing the job, but it’s troubling there’s a perception it might help. Stories like these are not unusual; women still face barriers and bias. Why does it matter? In our increasingly complex world, we need everyone’s contributions, ideas, and energy to enact change. Firms with more women in leadership see better innovation, teamwork, engagement, and financial performance.

Nichols IWL, under the leadership of Director Leslee Ruggeri, helps students develop their leadership styles and skills through mentoring, workshops, and speakers. When our graduates enter the workforce, businesses and organizations need to do their part, too. My advice is to focus on three Rs: Recruit more intentionally: Cast a wider net and demand a diverse candidate pool. Rethink how hiring and promotion decisions are made: Use objective measures rather than gut instinct. Reward behaviors we know are vital to organizational health and success: Ask how leaders encourage contributions, facilitate collaboration, and build positive culture.

And a bonus R: role models. Consider Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and “Barbie.” On her summer tour, Beyoncé shared the stage with her daughter, reminding the world what mothers can do. Taylor Swift rewarded the transportation team on her tour with bonuses 10 times the industry average. Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig, the women behind “Barbie,” the highest-grossing movie of the year, share mutual respect and creative collaboration. Women can the extraordinary while leading in authentic ways, and together these women have grossed $4+ billion. Now those are records worth celebrating.

Jean Beaupré is the dean for the School of Business at Nichols College in Dudley.

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