By Elaine Thompson Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "While there is no shortage of qualified women to fill leadership roles and women make up nearly half of the U.S. labor force, men are still far more likely than women to rise to the highest paying and most prestigious leadership positions. Only 6.6 percent, or 33, of Fortune 500 CEOs are women."
When Christine Cassidy was about to go on maternity leave to have her first child in 1988, her supervisor at a major Boston corporation expected that she would not be returning.
Back then, it was not unusual for employers to think that women who had children didn't belong in the workplace ... that they would be better off at home taking care of their family. Some employers even used that as a reason to keep women out of the pipeline for management positions.
Cassidy, a former editor of a now defunct small independent newspaper in Lancaster, said she wasn't having it. She wanted a career and she knew that she could do a good job for the company and also have a family.
"They threw me this baby shower. But, it almost felt like a going away party," said Cassidy, who, since 2012 has been senior vice president and chief communications officer at Fallon Health.
"I sat my manager down and said, 'I'm coming back, just so you know. I'm happy to take the time available to me. But, my career is also important, so don't overlook me. Don't pretend I'm not going to be here.'"
She returned and had a good 15-year career at the Boston company before coming to work at Fallon Health in 2002 as a copywriter. She quickly moved up the ladder, becoming senior vice president and chief communications officer in 2012. She is one of five women on the company's 10-member senior executive team.
Cassidy, 59, is among a growing number of women in top executive roles in Central Massachusetts, including for businesses, academics and nonprofits. The number of women in top leadership roles is increasing, but there is a lot more room for growth, area women and others say.
According to the American Association of University Women, while there is no shortage of qualified women to fill leadership roles and women make up nearly half of the U.S. labor force, men are still far more likely than women to rise to the highest paying and most prestigious leadership positions. Only 6.6 percent, or 33, of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
Some of the barriers include old stereotypes, including that men have been leaders for so long that traits associated with leadership are often thought of as masculine and not viewed as favorably when exhibited by women.
Some workplaces still lack the flexibility to allow workers to easily balance work and family. And, sexual harassment, hostile work environments are still obstacles, according to the 138-year-old AAUW, which advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research.
"Explicit and implicit biases are deeply ingrained," Kate Nielson, AAUW's director of public policy, said when asked why it is taking so long for gender and racial equity in the workplace. As a society, we need to focus on identifying and eliminating bias and discrimination, she said. And, it's also critical to create workplaces that are more conducive to the realities of modern life. That includes flexibility around when and how the work is done, paid paternal leave, and accessible and affordable child care. She said no one should be penalized for taking their child to the doctor if they can complete their work later on.
"Those kinds of policies make it possible for more women to get into leadership roles and are absolutely crucial for women to move up the pipeline," Nielson said.
Carolyn B. Jackson may have defeated explicit bias after becoming chief operating officer at a Tenet hospital in Texas in 2003. Two months into the job, a board member told her he wanted to get her fired. Years later after she left for another job, the board member saw her husband at a local coffee shop and told him that his wife had done a pretty good job doing "man's work."
Jackson, who was hired as CEO of St. Vincent Hospital and Tenent Massachusetts Market in April, said attitudes within the company have always been pro-women leaders. The board member was not a fan of hers and he said she had a "brash Northeastern personality."
Jackson said health care is one industry where it is perhaps easier for women to move up the ladder because so many caregivers tend to be women. She thinks that will become more of the norm in other industries as women outpace men in professional degrees.
Women outnumber men in earning bachelor's and master's degrees and are nearly on par in getting medical and legal degrees, according to AAUW. "Since women are pursuing higher training and education and have higher aspiration and professional goals, professional women are making it easier just by virtue of their performance. We're proving we can do the job just as well as anyone," she said.
Timothy P. Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the old stereotype that men make better leaders "is an old and unfortunate perspective that some have," that he doesn't agree with.
"You're a better, stronger organization if it reflects both in terms of gender and ethnicity of society and the community. It brings different thinking, creativity and perspectives," Murray said, adding that women hold three of the four top leadership positions at the chamber.
"We need to do more and do it faster. ... But, I do think we have seen some positive changes," he said.
Murray pointed to several higher learning institutions in the Worcester area: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Nichols, Anna Maria and Becker colleges that have women presidents. Nationally, 30 percent of college presidents are women.
Nancy P. Crimmin, the first woman president of Becker College, said in Massachusetts, 31 percent of college presidents are women. She said the percentage seems high, but it's very telling when you consider that 57 percent of students are women in the state.
"I think it's getting better every year. But, we still have a long way to go," she said.
Crimmin said she has never experienced "any traumatic incidences of discrimination or bias," as she worked her way up from the bottom to where she is over the past 30 years, starting at Curry College as an assistant to the registrar. It is, however, interesting when her husband travels with her out of state for a job-related event and people look to him first as the college president.
"I think it's probably more societal than anything else. Sometimes it's generational," she said. "This past week, when we were out of state, someone asked, 'which one of you is the president?' I thought, 'OK. Enlightenment."
Ann Tripp, 61 of Rutland, said there are a lot of women in senior positions in Central Massachusetts, though more needs to be done.
She has worked at The Hanover Insurance Group for 32 years, starting as a portfolio manager for the company's pension business. When she moved up to head of that division in the early 1990s, the chief investment officer was a woman.
"That was unusual. But for me, it was huge," Tripp said. "If you don't have a role model to believe that it's attainable, it's harder."
In 2006, Tripp was promoted to chief investment officer and treasurer and president of Opus Investment Management, the investment arm of Hanover. She is responsible for the investment strategy and oversight of more than $11 billion of assets.