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Women of color must lead by example

BY MELANIE BONSU

2/18/2019
Melanie Bonsu

Just like when WBJ first started The Boardroom Gap series a year ago, I still strongly feel the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles in our community is a disservice to the population making up more than half the workforce, and the lack of women of color is even more disheartening.

This past November, I was filled with a renewed sense of inspiration and excitement as a record number of women were elected to Congress (I was especially proud 58 percent of newly elected women are Girl Scout alums). There were numerous firsts, including our commonwealth's own Ayanna Pressley becoming Massachusetts' first African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. I optimistically thought, “Now, nearly every little girl can see someone who looks like them in position of political power!”

While the political arena offers a glimmer of hope, it's a fleeting one as the business world still shows little progress for women of color. Last year, only two Fortune 500 company CEOS were women of color. Today there are none.

Refusing to accept this abysmal fact and saddened by the missing role models for girls of color, I reverted to the Millennial go-to of Google searching for a shero. And I found one: Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks. She's the first African American women to oversee an NBA franchise – among many other firsts for her and her family, including first one to attend and graduate college, first African-American cheerleader at UC Berkley, and first African American to lead a North Carolina chamber of commerce.

When Indra Nooyi stepped down as the CEO of Pepsi last fall and was succeeded by Ramon Laguarta, she said there is a pipeline issue, “I would have loved for the board to have had a woman to pick from. But at the end of the day, the board selects the CEO, and we just didn't have any women who were ready for the job.” That is a problem, and I'm still wondering, “How do we fix it?” I still wholeheartedly believe seeing is believing, but if our community doesn't have it in the present leadership, how can we inspire these high-potential girls to keep thinking big?

We need to continue to create a pipeline, locally and nationally, of women who can step up and change the look of leadership. I sit around many meeting tables within Greater Worcester, and I always take stock on who is present and what groups are represented. I hear, and live, the same issues every day – the lack of available mentors, role models and volunteers. If women, including ones of color or ones who understand and value diversity, want to make a difference and change the landscape, we need to make an effort to show the younger generation we're here and we're ready and willing to support them. There are numerous opportunities to make a difference, many with short-term commitments making a long-term impact. I urge us all to follow the sentiment and direction of my new shero Cynt Marshall, “At some point, it's almost embarrassing. I've got to make sure I'm not the last. There's no stigma in bringing up others.”

Melanie Bonsu is the director of development & marketing for the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts.