fb-pixelThere are more women and people of color at the helm of Massachusetts’ largest public companies than ever before - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

There are more women and people of color at the helm of Massachusetts’ largest public companies than ever before

Vertex Pharmaceuticals is among 17 companies boasting four or more women directors.Scott Eisen/Bloomberg

Women and people of color joined the upper echelon of Massachusetts’ top 100 public companies this year in record numbers.

That’s according to the 2021 version of an annual corporate census by The Boston Club, an advocacy group for women in the workplace. Released Thursday, the report logs the demographics of corporate suites and boardrooms at the largest companies by revenue in Massachusetts, including big names such as Biogen, Raytheon Technologies, and TripAdvisor.

“Since the first Census in 2003, we have believed that ‘what gets measured, gets done,’ and we have welcomed the positive, if slow, increase in gender diversity on public boards in Massachusetts,” wrote Boston Club president Nancy E. Nager in a statement. “This year, we can celebrate the significant number of ‘highest ever’ percentages and numbers.”


Women held 251, or 28 percent, of board seats, up from 241 in 2020 and more than double the number in 2013. They also took 21 percent of executive positions, the most to date. And 47 companies have at least three women directors, compared to 39 last year. (Akamai Technologies and Vertex Pharmaceuticals were among 17 companies with four or more female directors.)

Women accounted for almost 28 percent of directors at the top 100 public companies in 2021.COURTESY OF THE BOSTON CLUB

For the second year in a row, there are also no “zero-zero” companies, a term coined by The Boston Club to define offices without any female directors or executives. Waltham’s Steel Connect was the last of the bunch in 2019.

Those numbers are miles ahead of 2003, when half the surveyed companies had all-male boards.

Two of the companies added to the 2021 census have all-male boards.Courtesy of the Boston Club

Racial representation spiked significantly, too, census co-author Toni G. Wolfman said in an interview. (The Boston Club began counting men of color for the first time this year.)

Within the 88 companies that also appeared on last year’s list, more than half of new directors identify as men or women of color. Sixty-seven of the top 100 have at least one woman and one person of color on their board. Still, just 5 percent of directors and 3 percent of executive officers are women of color.


The distribution of underrepresented groups varies widely between corporations. Women make up more than half of the executive officers at nine companies — among them Alexion Pharmaceuticals and Smith & Wesson Brands. Yet 22 of the 100 have no women in their executive ranks. And 33 of the companies surveyed have no directors of color.

Almost 21 percent of the executive officers at the top 100 public companies are women. At nine companies, at least half the executive officers are female.Courtesy of the Boston Club

In 2020, all of the top 100 had at least one woman on their board. This year, it’s down to 98. Newcomers Vicor Corp. and Organogenesis Holdings, Inc. have no female directors.

“They’re outliers, but they’re there — unfortunately,” Wolfman said.

Diversity within the corporate world is creeping upward. The life sciences sector now has the highest share of women executive officers at 31 percent, and services and retail are tied at 30.5 percent of female directors.

Historically, the technology sector accounts for the greatest number of companies and the fewest women in leadership. Just 14 percent hold director positions, and 26 percent are in executive offices — a significant bump from 2020.

The technology sector, which accounts for the largest number of companies on the list, employs the smallest percent of female executive officers.Courtesy of the Boston Club

For Wolfman, the overall message is clear: This is progress.

“Companies have gotten it, and they’re not just mouthing the diversity stuff,” she said. “They all signed things after George Floyd saying, ‘Yes, we want diversity.’ What this analysis shows is that an awful lot of companies actually acted on that.”


Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her @ditikohli_.