Some Steps in the Right Direction

Several months ago, we wrote about what we perceived as a considerable challenge for this region: finding capable successors for all Baby Boomers — and others — who will be retiring over the next several years.

As we noted, the Boomers will be stepping down in very large numbers over the next decade or so, and the shoes of many of this region’s business and nonprofit leaders will have to be filled by individuals who can take those organizations forward.

Months later, this assignment continues, and as matters unfold, we notice what we believe is a trend, and one that we sincerely hope will continue. Specifically, many of the people now doing the shoe-filling are women.

For example, Maura McCaffrey has taken the helm at Health New England, succeeding long-time president and CEO Peter Straley. Just a few months ago, Joanne Marquesee was chosen as president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.

Roughly a year ago, Mary-Beth Cooper took the reins at Springfield College, becoming the first woman to lead that 128-year-old institution that has long been dominated by men and was originally open only to them. Likewise, Carolyn Martin not long ago became the first woman to lead Amherst College, which also started as a men’s school.

Just recently, Hope Margala was named president and CEO at Yankee Candle Corp., one of the region’s largest employers. Earlier this summer, Dena Hall was named regional president of a much larger United Bank. On the nonprofit side, Kim Goulette has been named executive director of the Pioneer Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, succeeding long-time director Rick Lee, and a year ago, Sarah Tsitso became the first woman to lead the Springfield Boys & Girls Club.

The first thing we’ll say about all this is that caution, or discretion, must be exercised whenever the discussion comes around to women being placed in high positions. The last thing we would want to do at BusinessWest is indicate that there is anything extraordinary about this or somehow send a message that someone has been awarded a top-level executive position at a local business or nonprofit — and, wow, she’s a woman!

Indeed, we’re years, if not decades, past the point (or should be) where gender should even be an issue in matters such as filling positions in the executive suite. But, let’s face it, this is something we simply would not have seen 20 years ago, or perhaps even 10 years ago, when the only women college presidents in Western Mass. were running women’s colleges, and all of the region’s banks were run by men.

What has happened?

Well, we’d like to believe that maybe, just maybe, gender is now a non-issue when it comes to appointments such as these. We’d like to think that area businesses and nonprofits are no longer overlooking at least half the qualified candidates for a position.

And maybe women are becoming less hesitant to reach higher for posts such as these because they believe they won’t be discounted because they’re a woman, or hired because they’re a woman; rather, they’ll be hired because they’re the best candidate.

We believe this might be the case, because all of those appointments above do not amount to a coincidence. Instead, they amount to considerable movement in the right direction.

And this movement isn’t just toward putting women in such positions, but rather toward ending the historical habit of effectively eliminating them from the discussion.

It’s a movement that certainly bodes well for this region.

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