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Women & Power 2022

‘Resist the temptation to fit the mold’

Eleven leaders share insights on cultivating diverse, dynamic teams in challenging times.

Top row from left: Claire Spofford, Frederica M. Williams, and Lisa S. Wieland. Bottom row from left: Maura Hughes, Sarah Spillane, and Susan W. Murley.Handout images
How have the last two years changed the way you lead?

Flexibility. The last two years have shown us that the status quo is shattered. People need more than a paycheck or a pat on the back at the end of the day. They need family, friends, and community. They need to be seen and heard. We’re creating systems of flexibility, including when and where people work; changing positions from one full-time to two part-time positions; and redesigning or creating new positions to unburden workloads.

— Angelina Ramirez, CEO, Stavros Center for Independent Living

I listen more carefully to better understand how our firm can evolve to meet our community’s changing needs, and spend significantly more time considering new and better ways to ensure that our people feel supported. For some colleagues, that means better work/life balance; for others within our organization, it means a wider range of mental health resources.

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— Susan W. Murley, co-managing partner, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr

Two areas required intensified leadership: Giving responsibility, resources, and support to the management team to ensure we were using everyone’s expertise to their fullest; and concentrating on the needs of our staff, both at work and at home, to ensure we were supporting their physical and mental health and well-being.

— Maura Hughes, CEO, Boston MedFlight


What do you do as a leader to encourage diversity among top leadership?

For me, as a multiracial, queer woman, these identities are not separate from me as a leader, so I encourage everyone to be as authentic as possible. I encourage people to resist the temptation to fit the mold of others and instead recognize that their individuality is their gift to others in this world.

— Christina Royal, president, Holyoke Community College

We have added a diversity, equity, and inclusion component to performance evaluations; we are creating partnerships and pipeline initiatives with multiple organizations for talent development; and we have successfully made DE&I an equally weighted selection criterion when developers compete for Massport’s commercial real estate projects.

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— Lisa S. Wieland, CEO, Massport

As someone who has far too often been the youngest and only female member of my cohort in the CEO ranks of [the energy] industry, I tend to think about diversity as stretching to provide access. This means thinking about earlier-career team members who may be able to step up into roles that may have been occupied by more senior team members in the past. I was fortunate that leaders of organizations gave me that shot in the past.

— Alicia Barton, CEO, FirstLight Power

We have taken consequential steps to expand our workforce to ensure meaningful representation of women and minorities in construction. My team works closely with the labor unions to hire as many young women and minority apprentices as they can provide, and we partner them with seasoned veterans in their trade [so they can] learn good techniques and work habits while becoming highly skilled. As a woman leader in construction, I try to show what is possible for other women in our industry.

— Sarah Spillane, CEO, P. J. Spillane Co.


Clockwise from top left: Alicia Barton, Angelina Ramirez, Catherine D’Amato, Christina Royal, and Marcela del Carmen.Handout photos
What keeps you going when you feel like quitting?

I’m competitive by nature, and when things don’t go as planned, I see it as an opportunity to really dig in with my team to figure out how we turn things around. We took a disciplined approach to cost and inventory management, flowing great new products regularly, and really focusing on full-price selling. Thanks to the disciplined hard work by everyone, we’re now in a phase in J.Jill’s story where we can really focus on growth. We didn’t quit.

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— Claire Spofford, president and CEO, J.Jill

I am a practicing surgeon in gynecologic oncology. Whenever I think I am having a tough day, I know many of my patients are having a tougher one, and keeping patients at the center of all I do is very grounding for me. At the core of a physician’s life of service and responsibility is the unique privilege of being someone’s doctor and for me this calling continues to be inspirational.

— Marcela del Carmen, MD, MPH, president Massachusetts General Physicians Organization

The thought of resigning during any adversity or crisis, including during the pandemic, has never crossed my mind. During challenging times, I have tried to remain focused, resilient — practicing self-development and displaying integrity. I practice and promote self-care — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The real test of leadership does not occur when everything is sailing smoothly. It is important for me to demonstrate confidence and courage during times of challenge and controversy, and this inspires innovation and resiliency.

— Frederica M. Williams, president and CEO, Whittier Street Health Center

There are many management issues, politics, and relentless challenges that can make any leader pause and reflect. I always go back to the mission. It puts everything into perspective and re-energizes the reason why we do this work.

— Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO, Greater Boston Food Bank

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Susan Moeller is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Interviews have been edited and condensed.