Fighting Through the Storm: Getting Women to the Table

Women U.S. Senators and the women who help run this governing branch made headlines recently for a seemingly mundane task: they came to work after a blizzard dumped more than two feet of snow on the nation's capital.

"We came in this morning, looked around and thought, 'Something is different this morning... something is genuinely different -- and something is genuinely fabulous'," said Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski on the floor, referring to the unplanned presence of all female pages, parliamentarians, floor managers, and fellow senators there.

Rep. Murkowski went on to speculate that the gender disparity that day might speak to the "hardiness" of women -- who "put on your boots and put your hat on and get out and slog through the mess that's out there."

Miles away in Boston (which thankfully saw only four inches of snow), these comments resonated with me, and I would daresay with many others -- women or men -- who have fought for gender equality at all levels of society.

It is widely known that the presence of women in organizations makes a difference. Women represent a significant segment of the population and bring skills, knowledge, and experience to the table. This contribution often leads to better functionality and better decision-making. According to Business Review Weekly, U.S. Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on their top management teams experienced better financial performance on measures of Return on Equity (35.1 per cent higher) and Total Return to Shareholders (34 per cent higher) than companies with the lowest women's representation.

This concept was one of the many reasons I hosted a celebration on campus here at Simmons College last month about the recent passage of S1007, a non-binding resolution passed by the Massachusetts Legislature that calls for at least three women to be appointed to all boards of nine or more by all companies and organizations in the Commonwealth. In passing the measure, Massachusetts became the second state in the nation to do so.

To recognize this effort, some of the most powerful women in the State Legislature joined together, including the Chair of the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways & Means Karen Spilka. "As a state, this is what we stand for, this is how it should be," she said. "This is a good first step, but we need to keep the pressure on. It is beyond time."

Like Senator Spilka, I am pleased to see a growing momentum toward gender equity in Massachusetts. In addition to S1007, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill last month that seeks to close the gender wage gap by ensuring equal pay for comparable work, establishing pay transparency, and by requiring fairness in hiring practices. The pay equity bill faces scrutiny in the House, but whether or not the measure ultimately becomes law here, lawmakers will at least place the inequalities women have faced for decades in the business sector to the forefront of our public discourse.

Pursuance of gender equity for all is good for business and all organizations. And if it takes a snowstorm to reaffirm that, so be it. As Senator Spilka so rightly put it, it is beyond time.