Clearing the Path in Boston

Last week, a groundbreaking event occurred in Boston, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it.  Clearing the Path, coordinated by the Alliance for Business Leadership, convened more than 100 area CEOs and thought leaders—including Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for a closed door discussion around improving gender parity on boards and around wages.

From left: Kip Hollister, CEO of Hollister Staffing, Sheila Marcelo, CEO of Care.com and Sandy Lish, principal and co-founder of The Castle Group at Clearing the Path on June 11.

From left: Kip Hollister, CEO of Hollister Staffing, Sheila Marcelo, CEO of Care.com and Sandy Lish, principal and co-founder of The Castle Group at Clearing the Path on June 11.

One might ask—and many did ask—why we need ANOTHER conversation around these topics, with groups like Women on Boards 2020 and the Boston Club, the Mayor’s and Governor’s initiatives, and many others taking the lead on these topics.  Some of the reasons are that discussions can be fragmented; they might tend to include the same players who are already “believers”—they are preaching to the choir; by including only the folks that are already getting it right, they are losing the opportunity to convert others who sincerely want to enact change but for a variety of reasons might be unable to do so.

This was a candid discussion.  Reporters were not permitted to cover the event live (although the Boston Globe ran a terrific editorial on the day of the event) and people were allowed to speak freely about their challenges without being “outed” for not doing enough in their organizations to enable parity.

So with the permission of the event’s tireless co-chair Trish Karter, founder of Dancing Deer Baking Company (her co-chair was Tufts Health Plan CEO Jim Roosevelt), here are a few of the takeaways from the discussion surrounding women on boards:

  • The finalist pool for senior candidates and board members must include diverse candidates; when it does, the number of diverse candidates chosen is proven to increase
  • Wait until you find the right people and commit to finding the right people; don’t just fill a position because you cannot find a woman to fill it
  • Shine positive attention on the companies that are getting it right
  • Make a state resolution (not a law) like California has, calling for a better commitment to gender equity
  • Ask your vendors (law firms, banks, accounting firms) about their practices in diversity hiring and board representation; if they don’t meet your standards, don’t work with them, and let them know why
  • A group of people who look alike will traditionally only bring on board others who look like them; cultivate new types of leaders who will help those at the top find other people from places they might not know to look
  • Our ability to allow us to be who we are as individuals is to have enough other people like us so we don’t have to be defensive about who we are
  • The tools are there; all we have to do is talk about them, spread them, use them
  • Go to events you don’t normally go to where you don’t know people to become more familiar with different candidates
  • A shortage of female VCs makes it tough for venture-backed companies to have gender equity on their boards; because the VCs who finance the companies are mostly men, they are the ones who get those companies board seats
  • Women who are on public boards should choose to serve on nominating and governance committees to make sure other women are recruited and represented
  • One CEO changed his board structure to include two new board members instead of one; the board was all men and he did not want a woman to come on board and be the only woman

(Because of the confidential nature of the discussion, I haven’t attributed these points to individuals, but collectively thank organizations including: Bentley University, Cambridge Trust, Care.com, Deloitte, Eastern Bank, Harvard Business School, Hill Holliday, Lasell College, YWCA and Tufts Health Plan)

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