Why are we still having this conversation? That was the theme of the Bentley University Center for Women and Business Inaugural forum that took place on April 27, 2012. The Center is working on initiatives relating to advancing women in the workplace and moving from conversation to action. Energetic as always, Bentley University President Gloria Larson kicked off the forum that over 700 people had signed up to attend. Bentley University’s Toni Wolfman said “the Center provides a framework to develop effective solutions to challenges faced by women in the workplace.”
Betsy Myers was appointed as the Center’s Founding Director. Myers is an authority on leadership and author of the book Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You. She has deep experience in the corporate, political and higher education arenas and served as Chief Operating Officer of Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign. Myers also served in the Clinton Administration as an adviser on women’s issues.
According to Myers, over the last 15 years, the number of women in senior-level executive positions hasn’t moved. We are still talking about the same issues now as before. She said “In the past, advancing women in the workplace was just a nice thing to do.” Now, Myers sees a big shift in male leaders in corporate America’s thinking. They now believe in the business case for advancing women in the workplace in order to stay competitive. Myers provided the following notable statistics:
• In 2010, 70 % of new entrants in the workplace were women and of color;
• Women control 70% of global consumer spending and $5 trillion in consumer spending power;
• In 2008-2009, women earned more bachelor’s (57%), master’s (60%) and doctoral degrees (52%) than men; and
• Research shows that companies with more women board directors outperform those without them. Companies with three or more women on their boards report a 73% higher average return on sales.
Bob Moritz, US Chairman and Senior Partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), said “PWC thinks about diversity and inclusion relating to the following: 1) people and knowledge; and 2) the clients they serve.” According to Moritz, developing, retaining, and engaging a diverse workforce provides a great competitive advantage if you do it right, as diversity provides different perspectives resulting in better ideas. Moritz said “women should get a chance to be in an environment of inclusiveness where they can enhance their personal brand and grow.”
PWC is a strong supporter of advancing women in the workplace and is contributing $1 million to help launch the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University. PWC will serve as its founding corporate partner.
According to Myers, CEOs are now asking what they can do and what tangible action steps can be taken to retain and support women. Referring to her colleague Rebecca Shambaugh’s work, Myers states: “It’s not necessarily about the glass ceiling, but the sticky floor.” Women need to be aware of the behaviors that are holding them back. Also women need to be more comfortable promoting themselves within the workplace and should seek out sponsors and mentors to help. Many male leaders state they would not be where they are today if they didn’t have mentors along the way.
Myers quoted Denise Morrison, President & CEO of Campbell Soup Company, and said Morrison has said if she had to give one piece of advice, it would be to “really think about what you want and love and go after it in a strategic way.” People don’t always see themselves as leaders but Myers said “At the very least, you are leading your own life.”
According to Myers, the reason why some people fail is they aren’t clear about what their job is and what they are supposed to do. We all have so many distractions on a daily basis, and it’s so important to have clarity. Myers often in her talks encourages people to decide what impact you want to have and what’s most important.
Some of the steps to corporate progress include accountability starting at the top, making sure there is always at least one woman in the final group of candidates being considered for executive-level positions, and making sure there is flexibility in the workplace.
Bentley University President Gloria Larson said “I believe we are at a tipping point when it comes to finding solutions to a seemingly intractable challenge. Working together, we are prepared at long last to unlock the full potential of women in the business world. Helping women succeed at every level is critical for both US economic growth and real social change.”
Moritz said "the greatest risk in transforming the global economy lies in standing still." He explained that the Center for Women and Business “is putting talk to action and action to impact.” The Center helps companies develop and train women.
Ellen Keiley is President-elect of the National Association of Women MBAs Boston Chapter Board of Directors, serves as a Vice Chair of the City Year Women’s Leadership Breakfast, and is a Boston World Partnerships Connector. She can be contacted at email@example.com
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