THIS MOTHER’S DAY, I’d like to tell you about my mother, Gadalia, who worked in the same hospital in Spanish Harlem for nearly 40 years. She would leave for work at 6 a.m., often working double shifts which brought her home well past midnight.
On the mornings when she knew she would not see us, she would put on bright red lipstick and kiss me and my siblings on the forehead while we slept. I remember waking up and racing to the mirror to check for her lipstick mark, a kiss that carried me through the day regardless of what the day brought.
One night as a young girl, I overheard my mother sharing with my father that she had been offered a promotion but had declined it because she was afraid that she was not qualified or ready for the role.
Back then, I remember being confused about her decision, because to me she was a shining example of a woman that could — and did — do it all. Today, I realize that my mother was missing a support system and mentors who would tell her that she was indeed ready and could take on the challenge.
Fast forward 25 years, and stories like my mom’s are still all too common. As part of the senior leadership team at State Street and as chair of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Women’s Network Advisory Board, I have never taken for granted my access to the remarkable men and women of our business community who have supported and encouraged me. I am also fully aware that not all women have the same access to mentorship, let alone opportunities for professional growth.
It is critical that we continue to invest in and provide opportunities to women at all levels of their careers. Fortunately, the chamber recognized this need more than two decades ago, when a handful of women and men came together to create the Women’s Network with the mission of connecting and advancing women in business.
As the network marks its 25th anniversary, the chamber will celebrate women next week at its annual meeting, which for the first time features an all-female lineup of honorees and speakers. We’ve been spending the year thinking big about how to take this thriving platform to the next level.
Despite pay equity laws, initiatives like the 100 percent Talent Compact from the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, and company policies put in place to create safe and equal workplaces, we know that Massachusetts women on average only make 83 cents to the male dollar, and our state continues to lag when it comes to equal representation on boards and in the executive office. When we break these statistics down along racial lines, the picture is even more dire.
Achieving equity and inclusivity in our offices begins with ensuring that we involve both men and women from all walks of life to drive results, creativity, and innovation. Far too often, chamber CEO Jim Rooney is the only guy in the room at Women’s Network programs. Men, we can’t make progress for women in the workplace without more of you at the table. We not only need and want you in the room, we also think you will gain important perspective from the amazing women who speak candidly about their leadership journeys.
As a Latina woman in the financial services industry and a working mom of two, my path to advancement has definitely been challenging, but rewarding at the same time. Early in my own journey, I witnessed systemic barriers in organizational structures, a lack of diverse role models, and both conscious and unconscious biases that held women, and organizations, back.
Unlike my mother, I was able to find a support system. And I have worked alongside leaders, including those at State Street, who have pushed for diversity and inclusion strategies that are focused on accountability for progress, not only as a culture strategy, but also as a corporate strategy. That’s because organizations now realize that the advancement of women is a competitive advantage.
In addition to my professional mentors, my mom is still my biggest supporter. When I was offered a position in China, she encouraged me to take the role and supported me by watching my children while I was gone. She has even tried to convince me to run for office! She wants for me and my children what all parents want: a better life and opportunities that she didn’t have.
My hope for the next 25 years of the Women’s Network is that we, along with our male allies, can make Boston the best city in the world for women professionals. I cannot help but imagine the heights my mom’s career would have reached if she had the benefit of a platform like the Women’s Network, where she would have found the support she needed, and more.
Yvonne Garcia is chief of staff to State Street CEO Ron O’Hanley and chair of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Women’s Network Advisory Board.