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Mass. fellowships aim to elevate women in business

“Are there small shifts that can be made to encourage women to stay [and] to lean in and step up?” said Rachel Kaprielian (left), the state’s secretary of Labor and Workforce Development.GLOBE FILE PHOTO

The Patrick administration will fund at least a dozen yearlong graduate fellowships to place women in state managerial jobs at full salary, with the aim of helping more of them gain entrance to the executive suites in government and private organizations.

The program, expected to cost roughly $1 million in its first year, follows recent studies that show Massachusetts is not keeping pace with other states in terms of women achieving leadership posts. One report, for example, found that more than half the state’s largest publicly traded companies did not have any female executive officers.

“We’re in the midst of the most profound global economic competition,” Governor Deval Patrick said Tuesday. “To me that means we need all the talent on the field ready to play.”


The fellowship, to be formally announced Wednesday, is being developed with Bentley University and its Center for Women in Business. Many of the details of the program are still being worked out, but state officials hope to begin accepting applications by the end of April, and placing fellows in full-time jobs in September. The program will offer periodic seminars to the fellows on topics such as salary negotiations and public speaking.

In addition to the fellowship, Patrick on Wednesday is expected to issue an executive order creating a task force to explore policy changes, legislation, and other initiatives to eliminate barriers that inhibit women from advancing in the public and private sectors.

The goal of the fellowship program is to create a model of mentoring and leadership growth that companies and other organizations can use to help more women follow successful executives such as Karen Kaplan, chief executive of the Boston-based advertising agency Hill Holliday, and Anne Finucane, the global strategy and marketing officer at Bank of America, into boardrooms and corner offices.

Despite Massachusetts’ image as forward-looking, recent studies have shown that it may not be as progressive toward women as it might seem from its reputation. The Boston Club, a nonprofit that supports the advancement of women, found that Massachusetts ranked 10th among the 18 states it surveyed in terms of top female executives in publicly traded companies. It lagged behind several other states, including Minnesota, Ohio, and New Jersey.


Another study, by the Working Poor Families Project, a national initiative to strengthen policies that help low-income households, found that Massachusetts has one of the highest concentrations of poor working women at the head of a household.

Carol Fulp, a former senior vice president at John Hancock Financial and now chief executive of The Partnership, a nonprofit that promotes diversity in Boston, praised Patrick’s initiative as a much needed “spotlight” that she hoped would spur the corporate world to do more to elevate women into high-level jobs.

Susan Adams, a management professor at Bentley University who helped author the Boston Club report, said female leaders too often get stuck in middle-management jobs because they lack the support of bosses and companies to move up. She said the fellowship program could provide the experience and credentials that may help them eventually break into executive positions.

“State agencies run on very lean budget, they have a 24-7 schedules,” said Adams. “If they can do it, anybody can do it.”

Beth Monaghan, a cofounder and principal of the Waltham-based public relations firm InkHouse, said she has encouraged women at her company to follow their ambition and reach for the top. But there is only so much she can do on her own, Monaghan said. Women still face institutional and societal barriers, she said, and a concerted effort by policy makers is crucial to shift behaviors.


“We need to find systematic ways to support women,” said Monaghan, who will serve on the task force. “It’s really important work.”

The task force is the second prong of Patrick’s effort to create more opportunities for women. It will be led by Rachel Kaprielian, the state’s secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, with a charge to report back to the governor within six months.

Kaprielian said one priority will be determining how to help women remain in demanding executive jobs — especially in fields traditionally dominated by men, such as technology — as they try to balance competing priorities, such as caring for children.

The Patrick administration has a good record of placing women in leadership roles: 50 percent of all managers in the executive branch are women; and 49 percent of the administration’s senior managers are female. Still, more can be done, in government and the private sector, Kaprielian said.

“Are there small shifts that can be made to encourage women to stay [and] to lean in and step up?” asked Kaprielian. “How do we encourage more girls to go into engineering and how do we keep them in graduate level programs?”

Erin Ailworth can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ailworth. Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.