Oh, no he didn’t!
I called Safety Insurance president, CEO, and chairman of the board David Brussard a couple of days ago to ask him one simple question. Why is there not a single woman on his company’s board or executive team?
I was curious about this after reading a report released earlier in the day by the Boston Club, which found that, overall, the biggest public companies in supposedly-progressive Massachusetts do a lousy job of putting women in corner offices and boardrooms. Safety Insurance is a member of the not-exclusive-enough zerozero club — zero women on the board, zero women in top executive positions.
Imagine my joy when Brussard answered his own line on Thursday. I introduced myself and politely asked him why Safety is the way it is.
He promptly hung up on me. Oh, yes he did!
I called a few other companies in the 21-member zero-zero club, too: tech companies Teradyne and IPG Photonics, and Cambridge-based business software giant Pegasystems. I was especially keen on chatting with somebody at Pegasystems: Since they made the Boston Club’s for-men-only list last year, they have appointed a new board member — another man.
None of them returned my calls and e-mails. Clearly, they don’t want to talk about it. But the rest of us should. There is a ludicrous dearth of women in prominent positions not just in these Massachusetts companies, but everywhere: politics, religion, media, everywhere.
For the hardy, determined few of you who still need convincing that this is a problem — that having women adequately represented is more than a matter of quotas and charity — there are a mountain of studies showing that companies with women executives and board members have healthier bottom lines and happier workplaces.
All the studies in the world won’t budge some people, though. Some of these guys are beyond embarrassment. Susan Adams, a management professor at Bentley University who worked on the report, has spoken to a few of them.
“They don’t see it as embarrassing because they believe things are working fine,” she says. “They say, ‘Look at our numbers, none of our competitors are worried about it.’ ”
Some, especially those at tech companies, also try arguing that they can’t find qualified women to fill positions. Rubbish: This is Massachusetts — land of big brains. They’re not trying hard enough. Some say they don’t have vacancies, but as we’ve seen with Pegasystems, that’s simply untrue. This is the Boston Club’s 11th report on these companies. Surely they’ve had vacancies in that long span, and will again.
“I have done so much match-making, introducing superwomen to boards,” says Toni Wolfman of Bentley’s Center for Women and Business, who wrote the Boston Club report. “They always have to be better than the men.”
Oh, how I long for the day when there are as many mediocre women in big jobs as there are mediocre men. Then we’ll truly have arrived.
I’m so sick of reading books and articles by women, for women, about what women should do to fix this: Lean in, don’t apologize, speak up, play golf, be the best, don’t be threatening, demand balance, avoid excuses, blah blah blah.
We have to face the fact that when you lean in with some companies, you’re leaning into a brick wall. The zero-zero guys, and the near-zero guys, are the problem here. It should be on them, not us, to fix it. They have to recruit women at every level. They have to move them up the ranks and find an affordable way around the child-care conundrum. They’re the ones who should be leaning — leaning over backwards.
Obviously, none of these men have to answer to me. But they should be answering to their customers and shareholders. Why do business with any company whose management declines, on this front, to join the 21st century?
In his defense, Brussard was polite before he hung up on me.
“You have a good day, OK?” he said.
Thank you sir, I will. Right after I urge my friends to buy their insurance from someone else.
Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org