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Link in the Spotlight

Maureen Alphonse-Charles

Written by W. Marc Bernsau

Maureen Alphonse-Charles, senior vice president and COO of The Partnership, is the new president of The Boston Club.

BOSTON — Maureen Alphonse-Charles has been playing the violin since the age of 6. Music helps keep her centered, she said. Plus, the teamwork involved in being part of a musical ensemble is an ideal metaphor in her role as a human resources executive.

Teamwork and harmony are keys in both her “day job” — senior vice president and chief operating officer of The Partnership, which works to attract, develop and retain multicultural professionals at all levels of leadership — and her new role as president of The Boston Club, which focuses on helping women fill seats on corporate and not-for-profit boards.

Much like a conductor, she said, “I want to make sure all voices are heard.”

Alphonse-Charles is the 20th president and first African-American leader of the organization founded 40 years ago as a place for women to meet and network. Today, it is one of the largest organizations for women executive and professional leaders in the Northeast with a representative cross-section of industries and sectors among its more than 700 members and an annual budget of $700,000.

The club’s track record to date is impressive: It has influenced or had a direct role in 100 corporate sector placements since 1986. In addition, it has placed more than 200 women on nonprofit boards in the last 20 years. Last year alone, it influenced 90 corporate board searches.

Progress in charting the gains comes through The Boston Club’s biannual Census of Women Directors and Executive Officers at both public companies and not-for-profits. The 2015 Census found that 33.9 percent of newly elected independent directors at Massachusetts’ 100 largest public companies are women, considerably higher than the 19 percent elected a year earlier.

On the not-for-profit side, women hold 36 percent of board seats and all organizations have at least one woman board member; 136 organizations have three or more women on their boards; in 21 organizations, women comprise more than 50 percent of membership.

Despite these gains, “it still speaks to an unwillingness to consider the large pool of women who are skilled, experienced and available for board service,” she said, noting on the public corporation side 22 companies have no women directors and 15 have no female executive officers. Lagging sectors include technology and life sciences.

Alphonse-Charles plans to build those numbers with the same tools she uses at The Partnership, diversity and inclusion. And a key focus on her effort will be to “build a symbiotic relationship with the rising generation,” women between ages 35 to 50.

There is more to the goal than simple numbers, she said: “Improving gender parity on boards is good for the bottom line, the shareholders, consumers and customers. The reality is that if we don’t try to make change in cutting-edge businesses, the disparities could become entrenched and take even longer to reach parity.”

She counters naysayers who suggest the pace of change is acceptable because filling board seats is, by its very nature, an incremental process.

“The Boston Club needs to be more deliberate and intentional about filling corporate board seats so that we not only have impact on the numbers but we challenge any ‘arbitrary gender quotas’ and open the doors for all those who are qualified,” she said.

That approach is reflective of Alphonse-Charles’ philosophy, which combines grace, dignity and charm with a “clear and very strong commitment to what she knows needs to be done,” says JoAnn Cavallaro, a past president of The Boston Club and a consulting executive and adviser.

Alphonse-Charles says she takes her cue from her favorite musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” which taught her “to be tenacious to a fault.

“It’s an ongoing learning process to play together. You are part of a group that has to collaborate.”

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