Women's History Month is a time to highlight both advancements and drawbacks in the fight for gender equality. Looking at the data presents a complex picture of women's economic progress that offers much to celebrate, but also leaves much to be improved.
A Story of Ongoing Progress — and Opportunity
A 2018 report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) ranked Massachusetts in the top three states on their Employment and Earnings Index, which includes factors such as earnings and number of women in professional or managerial occupations. Other New England states ranked in the top third of the country on this Index as well, including New Hampshire.
However, there is still room for improvement in many areas. Women are underrepresented in tech, manufacturing, transportation, and chief executive positions, and overrepresented in education, health services, and hospitality. The wage gap still persists too: Women in Massachusetts and New Hampshire earn 81 cents on average for each dollar earned by men, and 84 cents on the dollar in Rhode Island. Women account for slightly more than half of the population across the region, but women's economic advancement trends do not always reflect that.
How Eastern Bank Is Standing Up for Women's Advancement
Eastern Bank has long been committed to women's advancement, both within its workforce and in the local community, and recognizes there is much progress still to be made. For Women's History Month, several Eastern employees reflected on these values and realities.
It’s vital for a work environment to remove barriers for women and provide opportunities so they can advance, according to Barbara Heinemann, EVP of Consumer Banking. She has appreciated this throughout her 21 years with Eastern Bank, which has included earning a master's degree while working full time and raising a young family.
"I am very fortunate to have been given many opportunities to contribute to and lead teams across divisions and departments," she said. “They have challenged me to grow and also build different support groups across the company.”
For Julie Colarusso, SVP and Head of CRM and Banker Tools, the advancement of women in the workplace means supporting one another. She started as a teller after graduating from college and found a mentor in Heinemann.
"Each of us is in charge of our own success. I strive to continually learn, and Barbara followed my career and opened doors for me as she saw my openness to collaboration and a forward-thinking approach," Colarusso said. "People tend to want to share what they know and help others, and I try to support other people, too."
Marian Green-Robinson, Vice President and Branch Manager, said empowering women in the workplace is about fostering an inclusive culture that benefits women individually as well as organizationally. "Companies that align around the advancement of women help with advancing women’s skills, which in turn helps to advance their financial health, and it's a win-win for everyone," she noted.
Eastern Bank offers a range of opportunities for employee development, including training sessions and employee resource groups, and Green-Robinson has taken an interest in and holds herself accountable to some of these benefits.
"They partnered me with The Partnership, a nonprofit focused on developing professionals of color at all levels of leadership," she said. "Eastern brought this organization to my attention. I'm very thankful for that. After completing the one-year program, I got my first promotion."
Green-Robinson now leads a team of all women at her branch and is enthusiastic about their development. "It's awesome to support their growth and development, and share what I’ve learned with them," she said.
Sujata Yadav, EVP, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, has been with Eastern Bank for five years. To her, women's advancement is all about commitment.
"There is a concerted effort that needs to happen, making sure that women are appropriately represented at every level in the organization," she said. Yadav, who came to the United States from India 17 years ago, said that Eastern Bank has backed her success. During her five years with the bank, she has held three positions.
"You might not have all of the experience, but it’s important to have confidence in your abilities to get to a new opportunity, and Eastern has supported me all along," she said. "I really believe as an organization, we walk the talk. We don't just say it, we make sure you truly believe it."
Career Tips for Women, From Women
Though true gender equality is a work in progress, there are many ways for women to define what successful career journeys mean to them. To start, Heinemann advises women to demonstrate confidence, be open to learning, and use their voices to speak up.
Colarusso says she owes her success to constant learning, looking out for new opportunities, and opening doors for others. Green-Robinson says networking and clear communication go a long way, as does personal accountability.
"Be true to yourself, and know what you bring to the table. You can then overcome any challenges," she said. "It's not always easy, but you have to be able to say to yourself, 'Did I do the best job I could do?' and move on to the next day."
Yadav encourages women to take the initiative when it's presented and to have confidence in themselves and their abilities. She added that finding mentors and role models can be invaluable.
"I had the good fortune of observing some really fantastic women leaders and seeing them unapologetically shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts," she said. "The working environments I've been in have had very, very strong women role models, and I have certainly benefited from that," she said.