Massachusetts Singles Out Gender Equity in the Workplace as Its Next Big Challenge

Massachusetts is known for being in the vanguard on controversial issues. Same-sex marriage in 2004. Check. Health care reform in 2006. Check. Next up on the list: gender equity in the workplace.
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Massachusetts is known for being in the vanguard on controversial issues. Same-sex marriage in 2004. Check. Health care reform in 2006. Check. Next up on the list: gender equity in the workplace.

The drive to accelerate gender balance in the workplace is in the air in Massachusetts. Last fall I blogged about the Manbassadors, a group of male allies at the Harvard Business School who are partnering with their female colleagues to support gender equality at the business school, and beyond.

A few weeks ago I attended an event at the Bentley College Center for Women and Business (CWB) where more than 100 Massachusetts companies have publicly declared their commitment to making progress on gender equality in their organizations.

In the spring of 2014 the Patrick Administration launched its "Women in the Workforce Initiative" with the goal of addressing issues for women across the economic spectrum, from those in minimum wages jobs to those on the verge of corporate board service. Governor Patrick assembled a task force charged with developing an action agenda -- for public and private sector employers -- focused on addressing the barriers that stymie women, prevent them from realizing their professional ambitions, and limit their ability to most fully support their families financially.

Governor Patrick spoke at Bentley in October 2014, highlighting the release of the Task Force recommendations and proclaiming:

We don't have to accept wage inequality, or the under-representation of women, or the lack of family-friendly policies, as just the way things are.

Earlier in the fall Bentley launched, in partnership with the Patrick Administration, the "Corporate Challenge -- Getting to More" calling for employers to more proactively develop and retain their female talent and increase the number of women on the board of directors. Companies heeding the challenge agreed to define gender-inclusiveness goals, develop a plan of action, and measure their progress through time. Companies can pick among several key areas of focus -- recruiting women for open positions, retaining more women throughout the pipeline, or closing the gender pay equity gap -- among others.

When Governor Patrick first announced the task force recommendations in October, 14 companies had stepped forward to accept the "Corporate Challenge," seeking to create work cultures that allow women to thrive. He remarked, "Now 14 companies is a great start. I say we get to 100 by the end of this year."

Throw down the challenge, mix in a tireless group of highly committed people and viola, as of mid-December 106 companies were on board. The collective energy in the room was palpable as the names of the organizations flashed across the screen. The list cuts across industries and includes a plethora of financial service companies -- banks, insurance companies and investment firms. Healthcare organizations, encompassing several pharmaceutical companies, and law firms populate the list as do multiple trade associations and a handful of technology firms. A smattering of other industries rounds things out.

While the list is an exciting first step, there was a clear emphasis that the hard work is just beginning. The true measure of success will be the extent to which gender balance is reflected -- up and down the leadership pipeline -- and the extent to which women in Massachusetts can realize their professional aspirations, whatever those might be.

Stay tuned in 2015 and beyond. With any luck the Massachusetts example will spawn a national movement. This would be a fitting tribute given that -- according to Google - the first American town founded by a woman was in the Bay State.

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