We Bostonians love lists. Who’s powerful, who’s rich, who’s promising.
Boston magazine and the Boston Business Journal have turned rankings into a cottage industry. But these lists invariably showcase something we’re not so proud of: Just how white the establishment is here.
Easy to blame the media — and we do play a role — but the dearth of diversity reflects the power structure in this town. There was no hiding from that fact last week at the Boston College Chief Executives Club lunch with General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, where white people apparently reign supreme.
So along comes the public relations maven Colette Phillips to once again try to change the conversation about diversity. As a black female entrepreneur behind the Get Konnected networking series, she got tired of all our self-flagellating.
Her profoundly simple idea: the GK100, Boston’s 100 Most Influential People of Color.
The list, which will be released Wednesday, aims to showcase minorities who are shaping the region across various sectors, including academia, business, health care, and philanthropy. People are always asking her for names of minorities to serve on nonprofit and corporate boards. Now they don’t have to.
“We have a preponderance of people,” Phillips said. “You start realizing how many people are doing good work at the top of their game, yet they are not featured in any of the press.”
I got a sneak peek at the GK100. There are familiar names like Emerson College president Lee Pelton, University of Massachusetts Boston chancellor J. Keith Motley, Flour Bakery chef/owner Joanne Chang, Wayfair cofounder Niraj Shah, Steward Health Care System CEO Ralph de la Torre, and Partnership CEO Carol Fulp.
Then there are people of color in prominent posts who fly just below the radar: Framingham State University president Javier Cevallos, Rapid7 CEO Corey Thomas, Holland Knight executive partner Steven Wright, State Street managing director Paul Francisco, Eastern Bank chief banking officer Quincy Miller, and Marques Benton, chief diversity officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
“We fall into this trap that we think there aren’t enough people of color for leadership roles,” said Jim Canales, who is Hispanic and on the list in his role as president of the powerful Barr Foundation. “There is tremendous talent in this region. How do you surface it? How do you get it known?”
To come up with the list, Phillips tapped about 30 people in business and civic roles to suggest names. In all, more than 500 individuals were nominated.
(I was among those asked for recommendations, but I did not participate in the final selection of the list. I did not nominate myself in the category of communications and media, but I am on the list with two fellow Globies, columnist Adrian Walker and editorial writer Marcela Garcia.)
The list is not perfect. There are important people missing, including Carlos Santiago, state commissioner of higher education; Natasha Perez, chief of staff to Senate president Stanley Rosenberg; Travis McCready, CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center; and former US Senator Mo Cowan, who is now the chief operating officer at ML Strategies.
“This is not the be all or end all,” Phillips said. “Consider this a sample.”
This list — like the ones from Boston magazine and the BBJ — no doubt will generate debate on who made it and who didn’t.
To Phillips, that’s OK. That might be entirely the point of the GK100, to get people thinking that Boston has become a town full of people of color who are in positions of power, but their voices need help being heard.
For all my own bemoaning about seeing white people everywhere at Boston functions, I found that my notebook filled up pretty quickly when I sat down to think about influential minorities.
I actually had a hard time in certain categories like business and politics to stay within the cap of 10 nominations.
Then there was this issue: what to do with pioneers who paved the way for the current generation of minority leaders, people like the Chinese-American activist Frank Chin, former US attorney Wayne Budd, and Howard Koh, former state commissioner of public health and former assistant secretary of health in the Obama administration.
Admittedly, Phillips cheated a little. She created three more lists: the GK50 to honor trailblazers, the GK25 to recognize emerging leaders, and the GK Founder’s Choice to celebrate citizen activists.
In doing so, Phillips ended up highlighting the roles of 185 people of color.
Now it’s up to us to make sure they don’t remain invisible.