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President Pelton Testifies in Support of Gender and Racial Workplace Equity

Lee at table behind mic
President Lee Pelton testifies in support of H. 1660 as Boston Mayor Martin Walsh looks on. Photo/Sofiya Cabalquinto

President Lee Pelton was at the Massachusetts State House Tuesday, April 30, to testify in support of a bill that would require all companies with more than 100 employees to report the gender and racial identities of employees in management positions.

H. 1660, An Act Promoting Pay Transparency and Pipeline Advancement also would require the Office of Labor and Workforce Development to non-identifiable data, and would establish a professional development fund to employees of businesses and organizations that do not meet state standards.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh also testified at the hearing, which was sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Malia (D).

Pelton’s testimony follows a March summit cohosted by Emerson College and the Eos Foundation, at which presidents and senior leaders of 40 Massachusetts colleges and universities looked at ways to improve gender equity in higher education leadership.

Below is a transcript:

Thank you for inviting me to submit testimony in support of pay transparency and pipeline advancement in our Commonwealth. As President of Emerson College, a Massachusetts-based school with campuses in Boston, LA, the Netherlands, and Paris that is internationally known for educating the next generation of leaders in the arts, communication and the liberal arts, and as an employer of approximately 1,400 workers in the City of Boston, I am here today to express my support for the Massachusetts Pay Transparency and Pipeline Advancement Act. The vision behind this act—to advance gender and racial parity at our businesses and institutions—is one that I strongly support.

Recently Emerson College participated in a study conducted by the Eos Foundation, which brought attention to a gender power gap at colleges and universities in Massachusetts. The data was eye-opening; even in our progressive Commonwealth, not a single one of our 17 large universities has a woman board chair, and at 26 schools, women make up less than one-third of board members. Thirty-two schools have never had a woman president.

Emerson College, where I serve as president, fared fairly well — though not well enough to be included in the top tier of rankings. My predecessor, Emerson’s first female president, served for 18 years. The provost and executive vice president are women, two of our four deans are women, eight out of the 12-member president’s cabinet are women, and almost a third of our board of trustees are women.

And while we have not reached statistical parity, I am proud of what we have achieved and believe that public disclosure of what we have achieved and hope to achieve might serve as a clarion call to inspire other like-minded institutions of higher learning to close the gender power gap.

As a result of this study, in March Emerson College and the Eos Foundation cohosted a summit that gathered the presidents and senior leaders of some 40 Massachusetts colleges and universities to outline next steps for improving gender equity in our institutions.

While the study and summit are an important move for higher education, employers across all industries need to step up and commit to closing the gap that keeps women and people of color out of the top ranks of leadership. By requiring that employers disclose the race and gender ratios of employees in senior positions, the Pay Transparency and Pipeline Advancement Act will help shine a light on inequities that persist through the highest levels, hold our institutions accountable, and spur action to rectify these inequities.

Who sits at the table matters and changes the way organizations, businesses and corporate boards behave. A study of the corporate governance boards of leading American publicly traded companies demonstrates that boards with female CEO’s or board chairs have a higher percentage of women on their boards.

Change is a three-legged stool: leadership, strategy or clear sense of purpose and resources. All three must be in play at the same time or the stool will topple over. Massachusetts Pay Transparency and Pipeline Advancement Act is a three-legged stool: it has clear focus and a strategy to meet specific ends; it will have, I hope, the right leadership in the legislative and executive branches of the Commonwealth and the City of Boston; and the bill also commits resources to incentivize and sustain systemic change.

This is not just the right thing to do—it is the smart thing to do. Diverse leadership benefits everyone. We know that organizations are more innovative, nimble, and better equipped to solve pressing problems when their leaders bring a multitude of backgrounds, viewpoints, and experiences. By establishing a Pipeline Promotional Opportunities fund, this act will help employers provide professional development and coaching opportunities to advance women and talent of color into the highest ranks. To maintain and advance our competitive advantage in this global economy, Massachusetts must invest in promoting a diverse pipeline of leaders who will take our businesses and institutions to the next level of greatness. And when more women and people of color see themselves reflected in their leadership—when a world of opportunity that was previously invisible to them is made visible—the possibilities for what we can all achieve become limitless.



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