By Colleen Quinn


STATE HOUSE -- Laurie Pessah's newborn baby girl, who is only seven days old, got her first lesson about women taking on leadership roles during an event held to recognize 14 women hired by the state for executive branch positions as part of the new Massachusetts Women's Leadership Fellowship.

Pessah, who was hired as the chief of staff for the Information Technology Division of the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, brought her baby to the State House event Tuesday where the fellows were introduced.

Gov. Deval Patrick created the fellowship last March after recognizing a dearth of women in executive positions or on boards at private businesses in Massachusetts. The women fellows were picked from more than 100 applicants, and began work within the past two months. The women will work in state government or at quasi-public agencies for a year, at an estimated cost of $1 million in fiscal 2015. The jobs are not new positions, according to a Patrick spokeswoman.

The leadership experience with the state could eventually help those women in the private sector, Patrick said.

"You know, like it or not, there are an awful lot of women with higher degrees who aren't getting opportunities in C-Suites or on boards in the private sector. And if they can develop exposure and leadership and management experience here that then translates in the larger economy, that's all to the good," Patrick said to reporters after the event.


Using the fellowship program as a model, the Patrick administration hopes to encourage private businesses to launch their own pipeline of talented women in leadership roles, according to Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rachel Kaprielian.

Women make up only 13.8 percent of directors at Massachusetts' 100 largest public companies - a record high for Bay state businesses but far below the 17 percent national average, according to a report released earlier this year by The Boston Club - an organization that works to advance women's careers.

Kaprielian said during the event that women in Massachusetts earn 79 cents to every $1 a man makes.

Patrick greeted the new state employees, saying "It's an incredible room full of powerful women. I feel like I'm at home, you know what I mean." Patrick is the father of two daughters and his wife Diane is a co-managing partner at the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray.

Patrick described the women fellows as "deep, serious, kick-ass professionals."

When he announced the fellowship in March, Patrick also created a task force to come up with recommendations on what the state can do to advance women in their careers. The group looked at issues like flex-time, equal pay, maternity leave, child care, and family-conducive scheduling. The task force's report is scheduled to be released Oct. 10, according to Kaprielian.

Patrick said he learned from his mother, who went back to school to get her GED while he and his sister tagged along to the local community college, and his grandmother - who had a third grade education - "that when women succeed, families succeed, communities succeed, America succeeds."

The state leads the nation in student achievement and health care coverage, veterans' services, and energy efficiency, Patrick said. But his administration recognizes that women in Massachusetts are not leading the nation in career advancement, and he looks at the fellowship as an opportunity to help women achieve more success.

The Massachusetts Women's Leadership Fellowship was created in concert with Bentley University's Center for Women in Business. The women will take leadership and management courses through Bentley, and receive mentoring.

Jacqueline Cooke, a regional administrator with the U.S. Department of Labor, said that women make up the majority of the college-educated workforce, but still face barriers to career advancement. She described the fellowship as a "wonderful step" to provide women with workplace equality.

The women in the program range in age and experience. Most of them hold masters degrees in their fields.

Pessah, who brought her newborn, Jody, to the event, said she applied for a fellowship because she was "itching to get back to the public sector."

After graduating from M.I.T., she worked for the Boston Redevelopment Authority as a city planner before leaving for the private sector. She was hired in August as the chief of staff for Information Technology Division, under the Executive Office of Administration and Finance. She hopes the fellowship will help her become a department head in local or state government.

Other women hired for a fellowship include:

- Elizabeth Thorne, who was hired as a fiscal policy analyst for the Executive Office of Administration and Finance. Thorne has an MBA from Amos Tuck School of Business, and 12 years of investment banking experience.

- Samantha Hammar was hired as a municipal liaison for the Information Technology Division at Administration and Finance. She has a master's degree in global marketing communications from Emerson College. She worked as the executive director of the Capital Network.

- Michelle Reid will work as the director of environmental justice for the Executive Officer of Energy and Environmental Affairs. She has a master's degree in public administration from Clark University. While completing her education, she worked at the Worcester District Attorney's Office, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and the Department of Environmental Protection.

- Johanna Troy was hired as a senior policy coordinator for the Department of Energy Resources. She recently received her law degree from the University of Houston Law Center, and holds a master's degree in earth environmental sciences from Lehigh University.

- Michael Devon Powell will work as a senior health policy analyst for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. She has a master's degree in social work from Boston College. She worked as an intern for the Boston Public Health Commission, and spent two years in the Peace Corps in Siyazan, Azerbaijan.

- Laura Piscopo was hired as the director of administration for the Department of Veterans Services. She recently received her master's degree in public administration from Suffolk University. She has interned with Sen. Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell) and worked on Charlotte Golar Richie's campaign for mayor of Boston.

- Ellen Yan will work as an IT project manager for the Secretary of Education. She has a master's degree in accounting from Bentley University's McCallum Graduate School of Business. She previously worked as an intern at the U.S. Department of Treasury.

- Natalie Perry will work as a project manager for Mass Development. She earned a doctoral degree in philosophy in higher education administration from the University of Virginia. Prior to her doctoral studies, she was a high school social studies teacher.

- Nicole Tishler will be the associate director of Title VI planning strategies for the Secretary of Transportation. Tishler graduated from The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. She previously worked as a communications and policy consultant to the City of Somerville, and a federal policy and communications fellow for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States in Washington, D.C.

- Sarah Aw was hired as associate director of risk and performance management for the Office of Transportation Planning. She holds an MBA from University of Surrey School of Management in the United Kingdom, and has worked for many years in information systems in both the private and public sector.

- Amaila Holub was hired as the director of GreenDOT policy development for the Secretary of Transportation. She has a master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

- Beth Maloney was hired as a policy and strategic initiative manager for the Secretary of Transportation. She has a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, and has practiced law for 12 years at the Boston firm Nixon Peabody.

- Kathleen Aubrey was hired as UI Online Outreach manager. She has two master's degrees - one in information systems from Northeastern University and another in social work from Boston University. She has extensive consulting experience in focus group moderation and interactive design.