Business

Red-faced tech group does an about-face on awards, will seek women nominees

Jesse Mermell, head of the Alliance for Business Leadership,
Jesse Mermell, head of the Alliance for Business Leadership,

The state’s largest technology business group will reopen nominations for its annual awards programs after coming under withering criticism for not including a single woman among the 20 finalists.

The Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council had “failed to spotlight and recognize” the advancement of women in the industry at a time when the tech sector has been under sustained pressure to diversify its ranks, Tom Hopcroft, the group’s chief executive, wrote in an opinion piece published on BostonGlobe.com.

Mass TLC will reopen nominations, Hopcroft said, and accept five additional candidates for its four awards categories: top chief executive for the year, top technology officer, top marketing officer, and emerging executive.

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Hopcroft did not return calls for additional comment.

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The group’s mea culpa followed a critical opinion piece in The Boston Globe earlier in the week by a group of tech industry executives and advocates expressing dismay that Mass TLC could miss so many accomplished women in the local industry.

The essay triggered angry responses on social media. Hopcroft said his organization had been “rightfully” called out, and he thanked “the authors of an op-ed in the Globe for addressing this important issue and demanding needed changes.”

One of the coauthors, Jesse Mermell, head of the Alliance for Business Leadership, praised Mass TLC for its responsiveness.

“I’m genuinely impressed by — and grateful for — the urgency with which Tom and his team have approached revising their plans in response to the constructive criticism of these past few days,” Mermell said.

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Another writer, venture capitalist C.A. Webb, said she was “glad to see swift action.”

Diversity issues, particularly the absence of women in leading positions at companies and venture capital firms, has become a major issue in the technology industry. Indeed, even Mass TLC called out the painfully slow progress in advancing more women and minorities in a report issued in November, saying that only 24 percent of Massachusetts tech workers were women and 29 percent were nonwhite.

At the time, Hopcroft said Mass TLC had issued the report to put more “urgency” behind the issue, and his agency called for making “inclusion a priority” by having policy makers and employers set specific goals for diversity, share successful strategies, and hold themselves accountable.

Another coauthor of the opinion piece, entrepreneur David Chang, said conflicts like this could be avoided if Mass TLC had a more diversified selection committee. Hopcroft said the organization will add more tech leaders who are women to their judging panels.

“As with most things, the proof is in the pudding,” Mermell added. “How many women will be added to the judging panels, out of how many judges overall? How many women are ultimately named finalists, and will any of them end up winning?”

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But, overall, the critics seemed happy with how Mass TLC had responded.

“That happens when an organization has a great team and board, and is clear about its mission,” said another coauthor, Diane Hessan. “Wouldn’t it be great if all issues got resolved this quickly?”

Alex Gailey can be reached at alexandra.gailey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alex_gailey.