Institute for Women’s Leadership at Nichols College Releases 3rd Massachusetts Women’s Leadership Index

Report Assesses, Monitors Representation of Women in Leadership Roles in Mass.; State Still Stands at a Failing Score



DUDLEY, Mass.—The Institute for Women’s Leadership (IWL) at Nichols College has released the third edition of its Massachusetts Women’s Leadership Index (MWLI), a biennial report that assesses and monitors the representation of women in leadership roles across multiple sectors in the Commonwealth.

The 2019 report indicates that while progress is being made, it’s still happening at a slow pace.


Read Worcester Business Journal‘s coverage of the 2019 Massachusetts Women’s Leadership Index.

Read Boston Business Journal‘s coverage.


Nichols College Professor Jean Beaupré, Ed.D.

The MWLI—whose research was compiled by Communication Professor Jean Beaupré, Ed.D., faculty advisor to the IWL; and research intern Samantha Walther ‘20G—calculates an aggregate score. To do this, women’s representation in leadership is measured across political, corporate, and nonprofit sectors and is then compared to gender parity and to the rest of the United States.

And what score does one of the most progressive states in the nation get? Forty—albeit one point higher than the score it received in the last index—released in 2017—and four points higher than in the inaugural edition, released in 2015.

“Our calculation shows minimal overall movement since the last Index, released in 2017,” said Professor Beaupré, “although it is promising to see an increase in women holding corporate board and congressional seats. If we believe that having more women in leadership is beneficial, then it is in our collective best interests to do what we can to help keep the needle moving.”

According to the MWLI, women represent 51.5% of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ population yet:

  • only 28.5% make up the Massachusetts State Legislature;
  • 4% are CEOs of the largest public companies in Massachusetts (below the national average of 4.8%);
  • 21% hold corporate board seats (slightly below the national average of 21.2%);
  • 4% hold corporate executive officer positions (above the national average of 12.1 percent);
  • 24% are CEOs in the nonprofit sector—including education (above the national average of 22%);
  • 35% hold nonprofit board seats (below the national average of 47%);
  • 38% of public school superintendents are women (higher than the national average of 26.8%)

The wage gap for Massachusetts women is 83%, compared to the national average of 80%. In other words, for every dollar a man in Massachusetts earns, women earn 83 cents. Nationally, women earn less: 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. The MWLI also notes that at the current rate of change, women will not reach parity in wages until the next century. Further, it could be more than a century before women have equal representation in U.S. Congress. On a global scale, the World Economic Forum predicts that gender gaps worldwide will not close for another 200 years.

Although anti-discrimination laws are in place, many barriers still exist for women, the MWLI states:

  • Implicit bias, or behaviors driven by subconscious attitudes and stereotypes;
  • The pipeline to leadership, and women’s ambitions to ascend;
  • Self-confidence and societal expectations;
    • “Women consistently underestimate their abilities, while men have been shown to overestimate theirs.”

Last year saw the enactment of the Equal Pay Act in Massachusetts and also a record number of women were elected to the U.S. Congress.

“These two examples are part of the combination of factors that we believe are necessary to continue to increase women’s representation in leadership: policy and organizational change, public awareness, and cultural shifts,” said Nichols College President Susan West Engelkemeyer, Ph.D.

Another critical success factor, according to President Engelkemeyer, is the education of future leaders.

“This is a challenge that we at Nichols College embrace and take seriously,” she said. “We plan to continue doing our part to prepare both the female and male leaders of tomorrow to understand and harness the power of diversity.”

The Index suggests a few action steps to see that progress does not stall:

  • AWARENESS of women’s representation in leadership positions;
  • EDUCATE people on why diversity is a goal that would benefit all;
  • ACTION: implementing policies and programs that even the playing field, educate both men and women, and provide development opportunities.

As part of the educational experience at Nichols, the College has implemented programs, workshops, and courses designed to both educate students on the relevant issues, and develop the leadership skills they will need to make a difference in their workplaces and communities. Its annual Empowering Women in Business Conference was held April 4.

“It is our hope that the MWLI will help further important conversations around women’s representation in leadership,” said Dr. Beaupré.

It’s necessary for leaders in all industries to recognize the need for gender diversity in top leadership positions, according to Walther, who noted that diverse leadership only drives success.

“As a woman who is beginning her professional career, I hope to bring awareness about these inequalities and be able to continuously advocate for females who seek leadership positions across all professional categories,” she said.

Lorraine U. Martinelle is director of public relations and social media at Nichols College. Email story ideas to

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