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What top women leaders in Massachusetts have learned

Interviews with a few of the CEOs from the 2015 Top 100 Women-led Businesses in Massachusetts.



Chair, Global Corporate Practice, and president, New England, Weber Shandwick, Boston

When I got to City Hall 40 years ago to work for Kevin White, the joke was it felt like the walls were painted Kelly green; it was very white and Irish and male, and here I was, a young Hispanic woman. But the mayor's administration was also a meritocracy. He was known for hiring talent regardless of age and gender, and if you worked hard, you were recognized. I've had great mentors and partners and learned the value of hiring people smarter than me and giving them lots of room to use their talents.


Boston has changed dramatically since I've been here, with women leading academic institutions and innovative hospitals, and with Elizabeth Warren and Niki Tsongas being elected. But in terms of its business leadership, I do not believe Boston reflects the volume or talent of women in this community. There's still an old-boy network. I don't think it's deliberate; it's baked into the culture. The desire to make decisions in close-knit groups is the comfortable path. The difference is now there are also women's networks. The advice I would give young women is to make sure you find those women's networks. If you don't find one, create one. Don't take any obstacle as a given, but know you need support to overcome obstacles. There is support out there — it's just a question of finding or organizing it.

There's been enormous progress, but we're not where we need to be, so the battle continues. There's so much data about what a difference diversity makes that it's no longer just the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do. An inclusive economy's going to get us a lot further. — As told to Elizabeth Gehrman




COO, Kaplan Construction, Brookline

How do you deal with being one of the few women in your field?

My parents started the company almost 40 years ago, so I always had a strong role model in my mother. After college, I was in a meeting and a female architect asked me to get coffee for everyone in the room — at her office! I said I didn't know how to use her high-tech machine. I should have told her, "That's not my job," but I was so shocked. You have to speak up; you can't let people make you feel small. I told myself I was never going to be perceived that way again.

What's your advice for young women?

To have the confidence to say, "What I'm saying makes sense." Don't ever question what you're saying, and don't apologize for it.

What myth about women in the workplace needs to be corrected?

That we are emotional. We are sometimes, but part of that emotion is passion and a desire to improve ourselves and our companies.



President and CEO, The Dimock Center, Roxbury

What gives you the most hope for women as leaders in the workplace?

My own daughters [aged 8 and 10] are seeing a different world, a world that includes role models who weren't there when I was their age. They're seeing women who look like them in positions of power — Michelle Obama, friends of mine who are accomplished in their own right. My daughters don't express any limits on how they see the world, and that's exciting and energizing.


What myth about women in the workplace needs to be corrected?

The myth about women as emotional creatures is a negative thing. In fact, having a higher level of emotional intelligence is beneficial: It allows you to understand different perspectives on an issue, see how important decisions impact various constituents, and read the unspoken communications that occur in meetings.



President and CEO, Atlantic Charter Insurance Co., Boston

What's your advice for young women?

The best advice for anybody is to never say can't. Say yes to every opportunity. Be open to everything. Even if you're too busy or don't know how to do it, take on the challenge. You will find a way to do it. Guys always raise their hands and say, "I'll do it, I'll do it." Women need to be the same way at every chance they get.

What one change would make the most difference for women's workplace equality?

To stop putting things in terms of gender. If women do that, they will always be boxed in. Calling women aggressive still happens, but you'll never get away from people who are jealous or threatened. Pay no attention. Don't counter it; don't try to be less aggressive, because you weren't being aggressive in the first place. You were just being professional.



CEO, Codman Square Health Center, Dorchester

What's your advice for young women?

I wasn't given advice so much as encouragement, and it gave me the confidence to take on different leadership roles. So my advice to young women is to seek out and surround yourself with role models and people who are supportive, people who say: "You got this. You can do it."


What gives you the most hope for women as leaders in the workplace?

More women attending college and entering the workplace gives me hope, because it means more of us are working collectively not only to be mentors to the next generation but to support and provide resources to one another.

What myth about women in the workplace needs to be corrected?

That we cannot perform as well as our male counterparts. There are still people who feel like men are more goal-oriented, more focused, more driven. But when we put our minds to it, we are just as capable.



President and CEO, Princess House, Taunton

What mantra or mission statement has helped you succeed?

I have a fun one [often attributed to] Marilyn Monroe: "Give a girl the right shoes and she will conquer the world." Are you wearing pink fuzzy slippers, staying in your comfort zone, or are you the one who pulls out those Lady Gagas? They may be a little shaky, you might even trip — but you get back up and strut down the path not only in style but rocking those shoes.

What's the best advice you give to young women?

Accepting that the right decision may not be the popular one.

What one change would make the most difference for women's workplace equality?


Women have to stop measuring themselves against their own perceptions: Am I engaging enough, smart enough, fast enough, strategic enough. You have to come to grips with your own perceptions of yourself before you can hope to influence the perception others have of you.

What myth about women in the workplace needs to be corrected?

That women are too emotional to take leadership roles, that they can't handle it; they'll cry. It's a myth, pure myth.



President and CEO, The Trustees of Reservations, Boston

What mantra or mission statement has helped you succeed?

Believe that you can and you will. A large part of succeeding is being in a positive frame of mind that you can.

What one change would make the most difference for women's workplace equality?

Parental leave, not maternal leave, could be a game changer. If both parents had time, I think we'd see women getting back to work sooner and navigating the re-immersion into the workplace more easily. It's still: "She's pregnant. How long will she be gone?" If we lost men for 90 days after adoption or birth, it would no longer be something that can disrupt your professional development or status.

What myth about women in the workplace needs to be corrected?

That leading while female is to have no emotion, to be cold and difficult. We know it's a myth, but it's still there, unfortunately.

When you face a tough decision, what helps you make the call?

Getting really clear and honest on the gut level. I think 99 percent of the time the voice inside is the voice that lasts.

(Interviews have been edited and condensed.)

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