Mass. CEOs Meet To Close Gender Gap, Add Women To Boards

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President Barack Obama gives two thumbs as Women’s rights activist Lilly Ledbetter acknowledges him during an event marking Equal Pay Day. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
President Barack Obama gives two thumbs as Women’s rights activist Lilly Ledbetter acknowledges him during an event marking Equal Pay Day. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

For years we've heard the statistics: just five percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs. Women hold fewer than 18 percent of board seats at those companies. And, overall, women earn 77 percent of what men earn. The disparities go on and on.

But a group of male and female heavy-hitters is gathering in Boston Wednesday to try to do something about the gender wage gap and the paucity of women on boards.

One of the goals of the meeting is to prioritize gender equality — not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it can be a profitable strategy. And the prospect of increased profits is often a powerful way to push companies to change their ways.

WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with two corporate leaders about the attempt to increase gender diversity.


Betsy Myers, founding director of the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University. She served as senior adviser to Barack Obama's presidential campaign and is former senior adviser on women's issues for the Clinton administration. She tweets at @BetsyMyers.

Jim Roosevelt, president and CEO of Tufts Health Plan. One of the hosts of "Clearing the Path" Wednesday. Serves as chairman of the board of directors for the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans.


On the description of corporate boards as "male, pale and stale":
Jim Roosevelt: "That's probably not unfair when you look at the picture overall. There's actually some fairly good data on this. Of the Fortune 1,000 companies in Massachusetts — that's a lot of the economy — about 19.6 percent of the directors are women. So, 19.6 percent is a number that is actually pretty good compared to other states. The national average is about 16.6 percent. But it's still less than 20 percent...consider that women are more than 52 percent of the population... That phrase you used ["male, pale and stale"] gets into other issues having to do with diversity and age and so on. But, just in terms of women, we could move this percentage pretty quickly. If we added, let's say, 23 more women to corporate boards in Massachusetts, we'd be in the mid-20s somewhere. But it's still a pretty embarrassing percentage, and I think it affects the way businesses do their strategy. I think it affects how people market, how people develop products, and particularly how they select CEOs."

Why it seems to be hard to make companies equitable in terms of gender:
Betsy Myers: "It's kind of like the workplace was designed by men for men in the 1950s when many men had stay-at-home wives. The world has changed so drastically. Last year, 70 percent of the new entrants into the workplace were women and people of color. And then there are the millennials. In a couple years from now they'll make up 50 percent of the workplace, so that's all changing. But I can tell you this, for sure, and with Jim sitting here next to me: unless the CEO of the organization says this matters and is committed to it and, as Jim said, puts actual focus on it, it's not going to happen. We just did a big program at Bentley on engaging men in partnership because the majority of CEOs are still men. 86 percent of the C-suite jobs are men. We can no longer do this as a network off to the side or training for women off to the side. The only way we're going to do it is if the CEO says this matters. He walks it, he talks it, he holds people accountable, snd there's a partnership inside the company with women to have courageous conversations, bias training, and take this on with focus."

On whether there are enough women qualified to serve on corporate boards:
JR: "It's both a reality and an excuse. If you're looking for people who are also on two other major boards, there probably aren't so many. You've got to reach outside of that. You've got to say [that] leading a hospital board teaches you about governance, now you can be on a corporate board. You've got to say [that] you're on a smaller corporate board — maybe it's privately held — now you can be on a publicly held board. I'll cite my former boss at Tufts Health Plan. I was general counsel, she was the CEO. She moved on to being on a number of corporate boards herself, building on her experience as an executive. She had not been on a lot of corporate boards while she was building her career as an executive but she was able to move outside that and use that experience to be on boards like Biogen Idec, for example."

On the gender pay gap:
BM: "At some point, the problem is we're not transparent. In government, everyone knows what other people make. When I worked in the Clinton White House, every year The Washington Post published what all the advisers — the whole White House staff made. What their title was and what their salary was. So you knew, going into a negotiation, what your colleagues were making. Part of the problem is there's no transparency, and how do we get more transparency?"


The Boston Globe: Betsy Myers Aims To See More Women In Corner Offices

  • "Despite advances for women in the workplace, many of the statistics are discouraging. Only 3.6 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs, and women hold only about 14 percent of senior management positions within those companies. Despite the fact that more women than men are earning college degrees, and that women continue to make the bulk of buying decisions, corporate America has been slow to reflect that in its leadership ranks."

Time Magazine: Gender Discrimination Is At The Heart Of The Wage Gap

  • "A Harvard economist demonstrated that inequalities in pay aren't due to job tenure, hours worked or individual choices both sexes make."

The New York Times: Possible Path To Closing Pay Gap

  • "It’s 2014, and women are still paid less than men. Does this suggest that a gender pay gap is an unfortunately permanent fixture? Will it still be with us in 50 years? I would predict yes. But by that point, it will be men who will be earning less than women."

This segment aired on June 10, 2014.

Headshot of Sacha Pfeiffer

Sacha Pfeiffer Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.



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