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“How to be an Ally” panel breaks records at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

Posted by Katie Conroy on April 11, 2019

The Chamber hosted its third sell-out Women’s Network Breakfast of the year with 250 men and women who started their Tuesday morning at the Boston Harbor Hotel with a panel discussion focused on how to be an Ally in the workplace, led by Dr. Susan Duffy of Babson College. In solidarity with the landmark 25th anniversary of the Women’s Network, we had the highest male attendance at a Women's Network event in Chamber history! 

Our distinguished panel included leaders from business and academia, including: moderator Dr. Susan Duffy of Babson College, and panelists Stephanie Franklin of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Marques Benton of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Jackie Gadsden of Comcast, Kevin McGovern of Deloitte New England, and Jim Tierney of JLL New England. With such an insightful conversation full of tools and tips, it was hard to try to summarize this stellar event, but we did our best at compiling the advice of our panelists below. 

How to be an Ally - Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce


Advice to Advance Inclusivity in the Workplace

Inclusive leadership must start at the top

Jackie Gadsden advised, “Engagement starts at the top. Our whole mantra at Comcast is: you don’t have to BE, to belong. Anyone can be an ally - our mission is to make employees feel welcome.”

You’ve got to walk the talk. If you’re in a leadership position, remember that there are a lot of people who watch what you do every moment of every day. Gen Z’s and Millennials will give you feedback whether you want it or not.” – Kevin McGovern, Deloitte New England

Stephanie Franklin commented on Vertex Pharmaceutical’s structured strategy to inclusivity, stating: “We have a very aligned and committed senior leadership team. We are enabling the activities that are going to support our employees. We focus on diversity and inclusion one week a year with 40 events across seven locations, where over 2,000 employees participate. For us it’s about having the dialogue where we can talk about these issues.”

At JLL new England, sharing accountability throughout all levels of leadership, and shepherding inclusive rhetoric from senior management, has been a woven component of their culture. Jim Tierney explained this culture of accountable leadership, sharing: “It’s about being intentional and making sure our leaders recognize we expect them to make time on their schedules and with their teams to engage with this issue.”

Empower employees to tell YOU what groups and conversations are needed

Comcast and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found special success when they launched an anonymous survey to discover inclusion gaps, so they could actively address them. In this way, engagement was higher in the organization because employees were invested in the conversations that were desperately needed. 

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Recruiting diverse talent is a responsibility entrusted to all

Throughout the discussion, Marques Benton from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston reiterated the importance of diverse recruiting noting, “if you don’t interview, you’ll never get a chance to hire.”

Business cases have already been proven: Teams that are diverse outperform ones that are not - Jackie Gadsden

Stephanie Franklin shared that Vertex focuses on inclusion right at the candidate stage. “Before day one, we start with our candidate experience. We talk about our values and why diversity and inclusion matters, and what it’s like to be a Vertexian.” 

We are not replacing seats, we are adding seats. – Jackie Gadsden

Audience member Taygra Longstaff from Arup Engineering asked, “How do you deal with comments like, ‘I’m not going to promote someone just for D&I.’" Marques Benton encouraged attendees to focus on highlighting the power and persuasiveness of data in these situations: “We’re not saying you have to get to a specific target, but we do create a heat map to show how we line up across gender diversity lines in our hierarchy levels." Marques told us that the Boston Fed takes the time to analyze their competitiveness in the financial services industry, the state’s workforce, to the state’s financial industry, and to the national workforce to see where they have gaps. Marques said that the financial services industry isn't doing a good job at hiring gender diverse employees at the entry level, they are losing women at middle management, and then they aren't providing executive-level female role models. Seeing these gaps helps the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston focus more on hiring and promoting women within their organization.

Real change happens in the community, not just at the office

Stephanie Franklin noted that Vertex is focused on creating more inclusive spaces and support for women in STEM by  reaching out to young female students at Boston public schools: “As we think about STEM and investing in our future workforce pipeline, we know we need to invest in Boston public schools, because we know we lose girls in middle school.” Vertex works to create excitement around STEM and show girls by example that women can lead and thrive in the life sciences industry.

Break the mold from the old ways of handling “sensitivity training”

New tactics can encourage authentic dialogue when asking employees to participate in what can be unfamiliar or uncomfortable conversations. Vertex found success when their LGBT group, VERTEX PRIDE took to the stage. “They hosted an improv session which was standing-room-only, absolutely sold out, and introduced humor to address these issues.” Vertex also saw success in complimenting dialogue sessions with diversity kits. 

Boston inclusion and diversityWhen Dr. Duffy asked the crowd “How many of you have experienced being in the “out group” or “minority,” 1 in 3 hands raised to the air.

To see photos of the event and watch the recording, visit and subscribe to our Facebook page. Were you not able to attend our third sold-out event this year? Be the first to know when we open registration and subscribe to our news and events today.