The Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (Mass TLC), a Boston-area trade group, annually presents awards to local leaders for Best CEO, Best CMO, and the like.
All of this year’s nominees were men. After some local tech luminaries called them out on it, they re-opened the process and asks for women nominees.
Now they have to deal with the effects of their pirouette, including emailing the previous nominees to tell them it’s not over yet. I got ahold of one of those emails, which I’ll be analyzing in this post.
Mass TLC’s first announcement — and the blowback
On July 18, MassTLC announced the finalists for its awards, including five male CEOs, five male CMOs, and five male CTOs. They also announced five nominees for “Emerging Executive,” of which three were women.
One week later, six prominent local technology leaders published an op-ed in the Boston Globe on July 25 calling them out on the sexism. Here’s some of what they said:
Mass TLC supports a half-baked awards process, once again
Last week, the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, the largest and most powerful technology association in New England, announced the finalists for its annual awards, to be given at a gala this fall. On Oct. 3, in a room of 700 people, an accomplished person will win CEO of the Year, another will win Chief Technology Officer of the Year, and a third will win Chief Marketing Officer of the year. If you go to the Mass TLC website, you’ll see the list of five finalists for each of those awards — none of whom are women.
There are at least three problems with this.
First, 2018 is not the first year when Mass TLC’s judging process produced 15 male finalists for those three prestigious awards. They did the same in 2016 and 2017 for the awards for best CEO and best chief technology officer, and with another flawed process, the outcome is the same this year. . . .
. . . [T]his is not a pipeline problem. There are phenomenal women leading tech companies in our region, . . . [goes on to list a whole bunch].
Mass TLC responds
Mass TLC had two possible responses here: defend their process, or admit they were wrong. They did the latter. Mass TLC CEO Tom Hopcroft’s Globe op-ed responding to the criticism and reopening the process appeared the next day.
MassTLC reopens nominations for prestigious awards
Over the past week, MassTLC has, rightfully, been called out in the press and on social media for a lack of diversity in the individual leadership categories of our annual awards program. While MassTLC works diligently throughout the year on advancing women and other underrepresented populations in tech, we failed to spotlight and recognize that advancement. For this, I apologize. . .
We are taking immediate actions to remedy this failure.
We have reopened nominations in all of our individual categories — CEO of the Year, CTO of the Year, CMO of the Year, and Emerging Executive — for two additional weeks (until Aug. 10). In addition to meeting with many leaders who have offered their help, we invite the community to help us ensure we have included the best of the best. . . .
So what do you say to people who were nominated and now face more competition?
Mass TLC is attempting to fix what it screwed up, but reopening the awards process creates additional issues. Will the women nominated in response to this action feel they are present as tokens rather than worthy recipients? How will the original male nominees feel about this “affirmative action” for tech leaders? If a woman wins, will people feel she is a legitimate leader? If men win all the categories, will that reinforce the idea that tech in Boston is sexist?
This is not Mass TLC’s finest hour. To get a peek into how they are communicating, here’s a look at an email they sent to one of the original finalists:
Subject line: IMPORTANT: MassTLC Finalist Update
As you may have seen, MassTLC’s awards program has been, appropriately, called out in the press and on social media for having no women finalists in our CEO, CTO and CMO of the year categories. While we diligently work throughout the year on advancing women and other underrepresented populations in tech, we failed to ensure that our process resulted in a diverse candidate pool.
I am writing to let you know about this situation and that, while you ([candidate’s name]) will remain a finalist, we are reopening the submission period and increasing the finalist pools for each of our individual awards in the hopes that we are able to spotlight a more inclusive group of tech leaders. There is no action required from you, and you are welcome to help nominate additional candidates.
Nominations will be open for an additional two weeks (until August 10th) in these categories:
Again, existing finalists will remain in each category and we will add five additional finalist slots per category, for a total of ten. We will also add additional female tech leaders to our current judging panels to review and select the expanded finalist pools for each category.
Furthermore, we commit to engaging our tech leadership community in a complete review and overhaul of the Awards program for 2019 and beyond, including a reexamination of nominations process, categories, criteria, selection process, format and more, to ensure we are meeting the inclusion standards we have set for ourselves.
Thank you for understanding.
Mass TLC’s response was late, but appropriate
For several years in a row, the leadership at Mass TLC made a mistake in not being more inclusive. They also made a mistake by not acting sooner. Local NPR station WBUR called out the problem one day after the awards were announced, but it took the Globe op-ed to get them to acknowledge their error and fix it.
Once they decided to fix the problem, though, they did it as well as it could be done:
- They reopened the awards process and added diversity to the panel of judges.
- They issued public statements one day after the Globe op-ed criticizing them was published.
- The public statements included an apology, but did not wallow in it.
- They described their solution in detail.
- They reached out to affected parties (like the original nominees) and, in a straightforward way, explained what would happen next.
The matter-of-fact response to an emotional issue is the right approach. Extended mea culpas are pathetic, as are self-aggrandizing justifications.
If you make a mistake, admit it, apologize to those you harmed, and act to fix it.
And next time, don’t imagine that “technology leader” is a subcategory of “male.”