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Women & Power 2021

Eleven executives on how they build and support successful teams — even amid crisis

How do you build resilience into the core of your company? Focus on the people who work there.

Clockwise from top left: Pam Y. Eddinger, Lynn Perry Wooten, Ellen Rosenfeld, and Dr. Reshma Kewalramani.WOOTEN BY KATE SMITH

As-told-to Susan Moeller

1. Pam Y. Eddinger

President of Bunker Hill Community College

Key advice: Formalize family-friendly policies.

For the longest time we have said, “Oh, we want to be a family-friendly workplace.” We’ve actually put some of these things on paper so that is not just talk, right? So that when we implement it, we would have some form of uniformity of policy that everybody can count on. This time it would be real. It wouldn’t be just like at the fiat of whether your supervisor is nice or not.

2. Dr. Reshma Kewalramani

CEO and president of Vertex Pharmaceuticals

Key advice: Be an empathetic listener.

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Throughout these challenging times, I’ve learned so much by listening to our employees. Being able to listen with empathy and compassion, see the big picture beyond the short-term urgencies, and communicate clearly, frequently, and with candor — these are the characteristics I’ve found to be the most important when leading through crises. As a company, staying true to our culture and mission has been the key to preparedness.

3. Lynn Perry Wooten

President of Simmons University

Key advice: Be creative with the tools you already have.

You look at how medicine had to reinvent itself with telemed. They already had the resources. We knew that we could do telemed, but we were hesitant. When the crisis hit, [Simmons] went deep inside and said, “OK, what solutions do we already have in our tool kit? And how can we use those solutions to thrive during a crisis situation?” It’s about seeing what’s in your tool kit. It’s being innovative. It’s being creative. It’s spending a lot of time with community and teams.

4. Ellen Rosenfeld

President of CommCan

Key advice: Create a culture of opportunity.

We have people that started as a [cannabis] dispensary agent and they now head up the marketing department. We just promoted another dispensary agent to be a number two IT person. It’s talking to your employees and saying, listen, there isn’t anything available right now, but something’s going to come up and you’ll be there. Just trust me. I will get you there.

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Clockwise from top left: Nicole Sahin, Sandra Cotterell, Anne Klibanski, and Maria Flynn.SAHIN BY J. KAT; KLIBANSKI BY GREG MUELLER/MUELLER DESIGN; COTTERELL BY SCOTLAND HUBER; and FLYNN BY CHARLIE ABRAHAMS


5. Nicole Sahin

Founder and CEO of Globalization Partners

Key advice: Share knowledge among teams.

Global teams have many benefits, including being able to mitigate unforeseen disruption that poses unique challenges. Our colleagues in the United Kingdom are dealing with the very real effects of supply-chain disruption, while our colleagues in Malaysia are already dealing with the worst effects of climate change. Global teams dealing with these circumstances have already learned adaptation and mitigation techniques, lessons that can be passed on to other teams in other countries to plan and get in front of these challenges.

6. Dr. Anne Klibanski

President and CEO of Mass General Brigham

Key advice: Hire for different points of view.

It’s important to build a strong workforce and leadership team with diverse skills and perspectives. Sometimes the best leader for an important role isn’t always the traditional or expected candidate. While that might seem to have some risk, I have found that [hiring this way] allows for creative thinking, broader perspectives, and nimble solutions informed by an array of interesting experiences.

7. Sandra Cotterell

CEO of Codman Square Health Center

Key advice: Tell employees that you value them.

It is critically important to continue to remind all staff, including women and workers of color, of their importance and value to the success of your organization. People talk about the culture of organizations; where they want to work is not just about pay, but also critically tied to where they will be valued and respected. This will go a long way to support recruitment and retention, as well as a return to the workforce.

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8. Maria Flynn

President and CEO of JFF (Jobs for the Future)

Key advice: Throw out traditional hiring standards and methods.

Think about removing degree requirements from job descriptions, which is something that we’ve done at JFF. How to go to new sources of talent, either through community organizations or broader ranges of post-secondary institutions? Think about different ways to use internships, co-op programs, work-based learning opportunities as ways to engage new talent. How can we leverage this time of demand to really drive innovation?

From left: Gilda M. Nogueira, Jo Ann Simons, and Julie H. Jones.JONES FROM ROPES & GRAY

9. Jo Ann Simons

President and CEO of Northeast ARC

Key advice: Raise wages and support immigration.

Not the $2 an hour to get [human services] from $15 to $17 or $18, but really to $25 an hour so that we could be benchmarked with other entry-level positions. Not only in human services, but in health care and in biotech, there are entry level positions requiring a similar level of education. The other one that is really important is immigration. Immigration [policy] has to address the shortage in the human service field, and they need to do that quickly.

10. Julie H. Jones

Chair of Ropes & Gray

Key advice: Focus on staff training and development.

We doubled down on the quality of training. Ropes Remote University, a remote training program, provided our lawyers with important courses to accelerate their careers. To address the fact that there are too few diverse partners in corporate law, we crafted solutions. One of those is an advocate mentor program that pairs diverse associates with partner advocates who champion their careers. The aim is to open more doors for more diverse lawyers.

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11. Gilda M. Nogueira

President and CEO of East Cambridge Savings Bank

Key advice: Develop a staff-supportive continuity plan.

At financial institutions, we are all required to have business continuity plans in place. We were already thinking, What would happen if . . . ? You’re thinking about staffing, but you’re also saying, I don’t want to lose this staff. So what do I need to do to make sure that this employee, or this group of employees, does not find themselves with their backs against the wall, having to make a decision that family is going to come first? Family should always come first.


Susan Moeller is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Interviews have been edited and condensed.