Leaders Discuss How They Navigated Careers in Changing Environment

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From left: panelists Dianne Fasano, Nora Baston, Carole Cafferty and Kerry Ahern.

By Marlon Pitter

Boston Police Superintendent Nora Baston ’95, ’00 is a leader in the city’s police force. She oversees the training of new recruits in the police academy and has spent 16 of her 27 years on the department’s command staff.

Her path to leadership wasn’t always smooth.

Baston said she was treated differently than her male counterparts and that her approach to her work was criticized.

“On the outside, everyone sees the stars and gold,” she said. “On the inside, I’m not treated as an equal.”

Baston said the treatment she received before community policing became a more widespread practice made her feel like a “token” officer at times.

“I started thinking it was true because they would only pull me out in the community,” she said. “Once the door closed, I couldn’t get a box of paper clips delivered.”

Baston and fellow UMass Lowell alumnae Judge Kerry Ahern ’91, first justice of the Essex County Juvenile Court, Carole Cafferty ’92, UMass Lowell adjunct professor and co-director of the Education Justice Institute at MIT and Dianne Fasano ’90, ’91, first deputy commissioner with the Massachusetts Probation Service, shared their experiences and challenges as women in a profession that is dominated by men during a panel discussion held recently at Coburn Hall.

The event, which drew a crowd of students, faculty and staff, was co-sponsored by the School of Criminology and Justice Studies and the UMass Lowell Criminal Justice Alumni Board and moderated by Prof. April Pattavina.

Cafferty, a former corrections officer and corrections superintendent, said her efforts to rehabilitate inmates were chastised in the mid-1990s, an era of harsh punishment after the enactment of the 1994 crime bill.

CJ Panel 2
Prof. April Pattavina, left, leads the panel.
“It was punish, punish, punish, and here I am trying to do these rehabilitative warm and fuzzy programming initiatives,” she said. “So it wasn’t popular.”

Cafferty said there were severe wage discrepancies between her and her male counterparts.

“Consistently, the women who were in the same positions, the same roles as men, were always significantly underpaid,” she said. “We couldn’t say anything, because we were always led to believe and reminded that we were lucky we were there.”

Prior to becoming a judge, Ahern worked as an assistant district attorney. She said she has continuously dealt with other people’s traumatic experiences during her career.

“Nobody’s calling you because something good is happening,” she said of her time as an assistant district attorney. “I learned very early on that was going to be a difficult thing that I was going to need to learn how to manage on a personal level if I was going to do this on a daily basis.”

Fasano talked about the importance of having an honest mentor while she progressed in her career. When she first interviewed for a probation officer role, she said her mentor was straightforward in her assessment of the interview.

“A few days after the interview, she let me know, ‘Dianne, you blew it. That was awful,’” said Fasano.

Fasano was able to rebound from the failed interview and achieve success moving forward.

“It’s all about learning and growing from all of the experiences that you have,” she said.

As an established member of the Boston Police Department, Baston now carves out advancement opportunities for other women in the organization.

“When I got up into the command staff level, I wanted to create opportunities that weren’t there for me,” she said.

After nearly three decades, Baston says her journey isn’t done. She hopes to become Boston’s police commissioner to fully implement the changes she would like to see.  She also knows she’s had a significant influence on the city and its police force to date.

“Even if I never get to be commissioner … no matter what job I hold, I know that I can impact the lives of so many and of the next generation, so they can continue to impact lives,” she says.