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Executives to focus on gender equality at event

The effort to put working women on an equal footing with men continues to gain steam in Massachusetts, with 140 business leaders planning to meet at MIT Wednesday to discuss closing the gender wage gap and increasing the number of women on corporate boards.

The event, called “Clearing the Path, ” will focus on making executives aware of the inequities and having them share ways to overcome them, organizers say — making the state more competitive. The gathering is sponsored by the Cambridge-based Alliance for Business Leadership, a group of executives and investors working to promote economic growth.

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“We are, I’m convinced, as a nation and as a Commonwealth, in the midst of one of the great global competitive environments in world history,” said Governor Deval Patrick, who is attending the gathering along with Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “If we’re going to win, and I like to win, we need all the players on the field, and we need them to be ready and capable of competing, and that means you’ve got to take account of all the talent.”

The country, Patrick noted, has “been struggling to make opportunity real for all Americans for most of our history. And real equality for women is a remaining frontier.”

Wednesday’s event builds on several local high-profile efforts aimed at women in the workplace, including Boston’s initiative to erase the city’s wage gap between men and women and the governor’s inaugural fellowship program to place women in state managerial jobs. Several organizations, such as the Boston Club and 2020 Women on Boards, are also raising awareness of gender imbalances in the workplace.

“It’s not about a lack of resources, it’s about a lack of will,” said Trish Karter, an entrepreneur who will cochair Clearing the Path.

Executives, she added, aren’t opposed to fixing the problem, it just isn’t a top priority.

Women make about 79 cents on the dollar compared to men in Massachusetts, slightly better than the national average, according to the American Association of University Women , but the wage gap is wider here than in 17 other states and Washington, D.C.

At the top 100 public companies in Massachusetts, women make up less than 14 percent of board members, and 51 of those companies have no female executive officers, according to the Boston Club, which works for the advancement of women leaders.

“I want to find out what is the problem,” said Smaiyra Million, who is participating in Wednesday’s meeting.

Million is the chief executive of Millennium Partners Sports Club Management, which operates seven health clubs, including the Sports Club/LA-Boston. Half of her executive team is made up of women, she said, but her parent company’s board is all men.

Barriers such as the “entrenched old boys’ network” need to be broken down, she said, and inherent biases need to be acknowledged — and eradicated — in order for more women to rise to the top.

“I don’t want to be the exception,” she said. “I want to look around and see more people like me.”

Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.
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