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Nichols College Women’s Leadership Index highlights steady progress but uncertain future in Massachusetts

DUDLEY, Mass. – The Institute for Women’s Leadership at Nichols College (IWL) has released the fourth edition of its Massachusetts Women’s Leadership Index (MWLI), a biennial report that assesses and monitors the status of women in power, giving the commonwealth a score of 45 out of 100.

The index looks at women’s representation in leadership positions across multiple sectors – political, corporate, and nonprofit – and compares that to both gender parity and national averages to calculate the composite score. Since the index was first released, the Massachusetts score has been ticking up, from 36 (2015) to 39 (2017) to 40 (2019).

Jean Beaupre, EdD, associate professor of communication and marketing at Nichols College and lead researcher on the MWLI, points to a rise in female CEOs and public and elected officials as a contributing factor, but cautions that the 2021 edition does not yet reflect the impact of the pandemic on women in the workforce and leadership. “This past year has seen layoffs, stalled careers, and stress for all workers, but more so for women,” said Beaupre, who noted that, at the time of the MWLI publication, women’s representation in the workforce was at its lowest since 1988.

Jean Beaupre, EdD

According to the report, in the U.S., women lost more jobs than men in 2020. Those still working face burnout; remote professionals attest to working more hours than ever. And, given the additional time spent on household duties and home schooling, more than one in five working mothers with children under 10 were considering opting out of the workforce altogether. 

At the same time, countries with female leaders have shown better COVID outcomes, and female bosses tend to have more engaged staffs, a critical component for employee and organization success.

This year’s MWLI findings show that women comprise 51.5 percent of the Massachusetts population, yet:

  • 31 percent serve in the state legislature;
  • 8 percent are corporate CEOs, and 24 percent hold board seats;
  • 26 percent are nonprofit CEOs (including education)

In addition, the gender wage gap in Massachusetts is 81 percent.

“Given the many positive impacts that female leaders have on their organizations and staff, it is in the best interest of all that we maintain and strengthen our focus on developing and supporting women,” Beaupre added.

The Institute for Women’s Leadership was originated by Nichols President Susan West Engelkemeyer, PhD, in 2013 to develop the leadership potential of female students and serve as a resource and authoritative voice on women’s leadership for the community at large.

“Women striving for leadership roles have and continue to face both challenges and opportunity in the workforce,” said Engelkemeyer. “The Massachusetts Women’s Leadership Index is a valuable point of reflection and this year, we saw a rise in representation, with an increased aggregate score of 45/100. But as we look to the future, much work remains.”

In addition to Beaupre, the MWLI was prepared by research interns and Nichols College students, Victoria Palkon and Madison Perrotti.