Our Impact

Chamber's Culture Change Program is ALL IN for Changing Hearts and Minds

Posted by Caitlin Fisher, Director, Leadership Initiatives, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on November 14, 2019

To help Boston businesses address workplace issues that may be holding female professionals back, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Women’s Network and Babson College are pleased to partner on a new year-long, custom group leadership program designed to support organizations as they shape and shift their culture towards gender equity and inclusivity. Caitlin Fisher shares why she's passionate about being "all in" for changing hearts and minds through the Chamber's Culture Change program.

Google INFluencers team Tash Ross, Purvi Trivedi, Jonah Berman and Malar Patel (not photo’d) present their pilot project at Demo Night. Project Incloogler is a suite of recognition programs to give employees greater visibility, provide leadership opportunities, and attract more participation in diversity work.

When I joined the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce three years ago as the first director of leadership initiatives, I was inspired to hear conversations about diversity on stage at the Chamber’s 200+ person speaker series and eager to help our 1,300+ organizational members achieve their ambitious diversity and inclusion goals. 

Research from companies like Deloitte identify a very basic formula - diversity + inclusion = better business outcomes. Many corporations are already dedicating resources to these efforts; McKinsey and Company reports that about $8 billion a year is spent on diversity training in the US alone. Yet the needle is still not moving quickly enough.

Countless research has shown that the gap in advancement based on gender persists. In our conversations with members of the Chamber, this resonates. We’ve run our Women’s Leadership Program for ten years and have read nearly 400 applications in the last three years alone from Boston-area women who write to us on the challenges of operating in male dominated industries.

Progress has been made, such as the passing of laws (like the Chamber-backed pay equity bill) and changes to internal company policies. But many companies still struggle to create inclusivity in the workplace. Shifting culture is the hardest yet most sustainable way to make change, and it requires effort from all levels of the organization.

Why is it so hard to change culture? Because it can be so pervasive that it's almost invisible. Consider this story. A woman, Heidi, graduates top of her MBA class and joins a competitive corporation. She is named a top performer, attends networking events (and always follows up), stays late to help colleagues, brings cupcakes for birthdays, and even reads the sports section every day so she can complain about the Celtics loss or celebrate the Patriots’ win. She seeks feedback at every turn and is told by management that she's doing a great job. She is up for a major promotion - and doesn’t get it. 

What happened? A colleague, Howard, who brought in a new client that year received the promotion instead. Why? While she’s been doing invisible workHoward’s family has season tickets to the Celtics and he’s been inviting the managing partner to games for the last five years. In addition to that, he ran into another partner on the golf course he spends his Saturdays teeing up at, who introduced him to this new client over lunch.

Is this Howard’s fault? No. But the culture of the company values Howard and Heidi’s work differently. Heidi isn’t recognized for the contributions she’s brought to the company’s wellbeing nor is she well positioned to develop new business. Dejected and not seeing a pathway to advancementHeidi leaves the company.

How do we break this cycle? In 2019, the Chamber launched a new culture change program called All In for Advancement produced in partnership with Babson College. Thanks to sponsorship from Comcast, 10 corporations participated this year.

As Susan Duffy, Lead Faculty and Executive Director at the Babson College Center for Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership, shared "All in for Advancement is grounded in action - it's the first program to use entrepreneurial methods like design thinking to drive effective culture change."

The Chamber's culture change program "All In for Advancement" is a yearlong program that trains a co-ed team of corporate influencers (both men and women who serve as a broker or bridge across the organization) in gender acumen and entrepreneurial methods. Their team’s task is to develop a scalable pilot program within their companies focused on shifting corporate culture towards women’s equity and inclusion. The result is more fluent and capable change agents and a tangible pilot that companies can use to advance inclusion within their culture.

The program structure supports individual, team, and company progress on inclusion goals. Our Babson faculty team, led by Susan Duffy, teaches participants to break out of their traditional way of thinking and approach their work with human-centered and design thinking methods. INfluencers go through the same steps an entrepreneur would to successfully launch a business – interviewing key stakeholders, launching experiments and iterating with the support of a Babson coach, and reporting back on outcomes to senior leaders. Each team presents to a room full of company leadership at our Demo Night. At the end of the year-long program, each organization has a proven structure they can continue to build on to reach their inclusion goals.

Tufts Health Plan executive Juan Lopera, VP of Marketing for Public Plans & Corporate Business Diversity Officer, offers a “gift” to a participating team during 2019 Demo Night. 

Let’s look back at our earlier story about Heidi and Howard. What might be different if their company had started to explore the barriers to women’s equity and inclusion in their workplace?

Invisible work would become visible and recognized for the contributions it makes to the business. Heidi would be recognized for her invisible work and given training and support to make progress on business development. Howard might even be the one advocating for this change, as he is a working parent and doesn’t like building business outside of 9-5. When being considered for the promotion, both Heidi and Howard’s work accomplishments would be visible, equally considered, and both receive the promotion because the company wants to retain them. Heidi and Howard’s colleagues take note, and retention and morale are improved across the organization. 

"Taking time away from the office to connect with other like-minded companies driving culture change validated what we at Rapid7 were exploring, and further honored our already ambitious ideas. This program advanced our thinking, built our skill set, and ultimately prepared us well to launch a program that refined our recruitment practices and retention approaches to be more inclusive across the board but especially for our women in sales," says Christina Luconi, Chief People Officer at Rapid7, one of our 2019 INfluencers.

We can rewrite this story together. We believe Boston companies can lead the way – and if we get it right in the office, the ripples will be felt at home and in our civic institutions. Together, we can make Greater Boston the best place for all women to work. 

Thank you to our 2019 INfluencers:

2020 Statements of Interest are being accepted now and are due by December 16. To learn more contact Caitlin Fisher at cfisher@bostonchamber.com or 617-557-7358 to set up an info session.