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Women hold top leadership position in only 8% of biggest Massachusetts companies

According to the feminist nonprofit VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, the share of women who contributed to, or had their books reviewed by the Boston Review dropped to 37.8 percent in 2017, compared to an almost equitable 47 percent in 2016. (Shutterstock)

Let's start with the good news. The number women who hold the title 'Chief Operating Officer' at the 75 biggest companies in Massachusetts has doubled since 2019.

The bad news: that number increased from three to six.

The data come from the Eos Foundation, a Massachusetts philanthropic foundation that publishes reports on gender and racial disparities in leadership under an initiative called 'The Women’s Power Gap.'

Eos Foundation President Andrea Silbert frequently hears the severe gender gap is because of a "pipeline problem." In other words, there simply aren't enough women training and preparing for the top executive role.

She doesn't buy it.

"You get all the way up to the top and then you just don't get the next position," Silbert said.

She pointed to the fact that 20% of the people who hold so-called 'launch positions,' such as company chief operating officers or presidents are women. Ideally, these positions would lead to the ultimate corner office. But for most women, it doesn't.

"That ratio should be one-to-one," she said. "Chief executive roles are the hardest for people to put down their unconscious biases and see a woman."

There is a large drop-off among women who hold leadership positions in top Massachusetts companies. (Courtesy Eos Foundation)
There is a large drop-off among women who hold leadership positions in top Massachusetts companies. (Courtesy Eos Foundation)

The report finds women of color hold only 4% of CEO titles. And half of all women CEOs in top Massachusetts companies work in biotech.

There is more gender parity on company boards, where women represent 30% of all seats. That is up from 20% in 2019. Silbert attributes that to a bigger push from investors and company leaders toward diversity.

"They're really thinking about it as an inherent part of their business strategy," she said.

There have been several studies arguing diversity can be good for business, whether it helps to boost innovation or workplace retention. The challenge, Silbert said, is  movement toward gender and racial parity is mostly happening among larger groups of employees and leaders, but it remains elusive at the very top.


Yasmin Amer Reporter
Yasmin Amer is a business reporter for WBUR.



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