Women's Advancement -- Male Allies Please

When Twitter begins trading publicly this month, it will do so with a board composed entirely of white men. Thirty or 40 years ago, this may not have been strange; I daresay that few would have questioned this decision at all. But today, with women's substantial use of social media, I am truly shocked that a major corporation would allow such a gross oversight.

Women have expressed outrage about this lack of representation by one of the leading technology companies of our time, and they should. But my question is, where are the men in this debate?

It seems to me that all sound businesspeople -- men or women -- should question why such an influential company would not seek strategic input from one of the largest audiences that it serves.

According to 2020 Women on Boards, a national campaign dedicated to increasing the number of women on corporate boards by the year 2020, women now make up 16.6 percent of board membership in Fortune 1000 companies. This is progress as the number in 2011 was 14.6 percent. But more needs to be done, and those in the best position to assist appear to be the men already at the boardroom table.

Take, for example, Joe Keefe, president and CEO of Pax World Funds. Keefe has made it his professional mission to advocate for gender equality in the boardroom and at senior leadership levels. The U.S. mutual fund he leads offered one of the first investment opportunity in America focused on companies that are global leaders in advancing gender equality and women's empowerment. Keefe noted in an interview with The Glass Hammer: "Our proxy voting policy is straightforward: if the slate of directors is all male, we withhold support and send a letter to the company explaining why and encouraging them to embrace gender diversity."

Keefe will speak later this month as part of an annual national day of awareness organized by 2020 Women on Boards about gender diversity on corporate boards.

Other men are stepping up to support the advancement of women, too.

Recently Boston Mayor Tom Menino announced an initiative in which dozens of major businesses committed to systematically assess and help close the gender wage gap within their own companies. The goal of "100% Talent: The Boston Women's Compact" is to help make Boston the best city in the country for working women.

Another historical example of a strong male ally is a little-known Bostonian named John Simmons.

Mr. Simmons was the founder of Simmons College, of which I am president. He built a fortune for himself as the inventor of the ready-made suit in the late 1830s. Previously, all clothing was handmade at home or by a tailor.

At some point, long before the women's movement, John Simmons recognized that he would not have his considerable wealth without the small army of women seamstresses who worked for him. He saw them struggle to make ends meet for themselves and their families and, as a result, he decided to found a college with a mission to educate women so that they could earn independent livelihoods.

I wonder, if John Simmons were alive today, would he only have women sewing the suits, or would he also employ them at the C-Suite level to set strategies for growth and select them for boardroom leadership? My guess is that he would have deeply understood their value as both customers and businesspeople, and would have them represented in the widest variety of leadership roles possible.

When will we, as a society, recognize that these are not merely women's issues, but broad cultural and economic issues? We will never reach our full potential as a country, if we do not use 100 percent of our talent. Men, we need your help to make this happen.

 by Helen Drinan, President, Simmons College

Posted by Carolyn Fitzpatrick on News & Events