OCTOBER 17, 2019 | JORDAN ZIESE, YW BOSTON
On October 2, 2019, The Parity on Board Coalition took to the State House to testify before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight in favor of An Act to ensure gender parity on public boards and commissions (H.2711/S.1878). The Parity on Board Coalition seeks to address power inequities in Massachusetts by promoting diversity in leadership and governance. The bill would require that the composition of each appointed public board and commission in Massachusetts broadly reflect the population of the Commonwealth. This requires public boards and commissions to include persons of different backgrounds, abilities, interests, and opinions including ethnic minorities and women, including no less than 50% women board members or commissioners.
During the hearing, elected officials, such as Parity on Board Sponsor Representative Patricia Haddad spoke favorably of the legislation. State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg spoke about the work she has done to diversify boards in Massachusetts, including issuing the 2017 Bringing Diversity on Board report, and how she has learned from her experience that board diversity leads to greater success. State Auditor Suzanne Bump spoke next, stating, “When there is gender imbalance on them, and when other racial and ethnic groups are not included, the Commonwealth loses the opportunity to have all perspectives come to bear on a matter, and democracy and its people are the poorer for that.” Their statements were echoed by the eight Parity on Board coalition members that also spoke before the committee.
The coalition organized three panels to testify in favor of the bill:
In her testimony, YW Boston President and CEO Beth Chandler spoke about the inadequate representation current on Massachusetts boards and commissions. As she stated, “only 32% of boards have achieved parity while 50% of boards and commissions are made up of less than 40% women. And that number decreases significantly when talking about women of color. For example, 34% of women hold board chair position with only 6% being women of color.” Beth spoke of the changes the Parity on Board Coalition seeks on the language of the bill. These include changing the language in the bill that speaks of “women” to “gender,” to be more inclusive of non-binary individuals, as well as including language that would ensure at least one woman of color would be on every board. She also requested an amendment that would exclude public boards and commissions whose core mission it is to enhance opportunities for a specified gender, race, or ethnicity, as their membership may be comprised of more than 50% of that gender, race, or ethnicity.
Several panelists shared their personal experiences to illustrate the necessity of diversifying Massachusetts’ public boards and commissions. As a Boston IGNITE Fellow, Anna Del Castillo is preparing for a career in public office. She shared her experience being in elected office since sixth grade and having always had powerful women to look up to and guide her way. Her experience isn’t singular – she states that, “Currently the majority of student body presidents at Boston area schools are women of color,” asking “So what does it mean for women like me to serve as leaders at the university level, only to enter into a male-dominated arena of politics?” where women of color leaders are underrepresented.
In the final panel, Jane Edmonds spoke about her experience as a black woman who has served on multiple boards and commissions. Over the years, she has continually been the “first” or the “only” woman of color in spaces that are primarily white and male. In response to this, she shared, “I must tell you I am tired of being the only, and I call upon this body to act in order to ensure that the state of MA takes the difficult steps up from the quicksand of racial and gender inequity to stand firmly on the higher ground of authentic, inclusive representation in our organizations and our boards.” She cast down the idea that recruiters “cannot locate a pipeline of diverse talent,” as an “appalling stagnation of progress.”
Stories and experiences, like the ones we heard at the hearing, have a strong impact on legislators. The Coalition looks forward to continuing to share stories while awaiting the bill to be reported out of committee.